- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rescuing an enfeebled presidential election-funding system before 2008 by enlarging the pot of matching funds for primaries and giving the money to candidates earlier is emerging as the next goal of campaign-finance reformers.

Fresh off a victory this month in the Supreme Court, the lawmakers who wrote the new limits on campaign donations and restrictions in place for the 2004 elections see an urgent need in shoring up the system for providing government money to campaigns.

The four men linked by years of work on campaign spending — Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat; and Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat — have other ideas on improving electioneering rules, including replacing the Federal Election Commission.

None, however, is more timely than the presidential public-financing issue.

“Everybody recognizes that the public-financing system is out of date,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “It’s not responsive to the way campaigns are currently run.”

Congress could take up several proposals seen by their sponsors as the next step after what is known as the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reforms. They include rules for fund raising by special-interest groups, tax credits for smaller donations, and other measures to either lift or further tighten restrictions on political contributions.

The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling supporting the McCain-Feingold ban on corporate and union donations to political parties reflected the sharp congressional divisions on campaign spending. But there was little disagreement with the opinion of Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority, that “money, like water, will always find an outlet,” and that Congress would once again have to respond.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, the leading opponent of the McCain-Feingold measure, said there was little appetite for any quick return to the issue.

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a key supporter of McCain-Feingold, said the fights will begin sooner rather than later. He said Congress has a three-year window to act on presidential funding before the 2008 election. “We’re at a stage where we either fix the presidential system or we are going to lose it.”

The McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan proposal would increase from one-to-one to four-to-one the public-funds match for individual contributions to a primary candidate that are $250 or less. It would increase the overall primary spending limit for each candidate from $45 million to $75 million.

More importantly, it would move up the date when candidates can start collecting public funds to help pay for their campaigns — from Jan. 1 of the election year to July 1 of the previous year.

It would also set the spending limit for a participating general-election candidate at $75 million and double to $6 the individual checkoff on tax forms to fund the public-financing system.


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