- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

The Federal Election Commission has asked Congress to either update the public financing system for presidential candidates or get rid of it altogether.

FEC Chairman Scott E. Thomas and Vice Chairman Michael E. Toner said the principal reason for the request was candidates’ decision to refuse the money.

President Bush chose not to accept matching funds for the primaries in 2000 and 2004. Last year, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry and Democratic candidate Howard Dean both opted out of the system.

“President Bush became the first candidate to opt out and win in 2000, which was a watershed event,” Mr. Toner said.

He said Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry each raised five to six times the legal spending limit that would have applied if they had accepted matching federal funds for the primaries for 2004.



“I personally think the public funding program has enough virtues to argue the need of retaining it, but it needs to be altered,” Mr. Thomas said.

To make the system more attractive, the commissioners suggest increasing the spending limit from $45 million to $200 million, and raising the federal match to $100 million from about $19 million.

“That is real money that candidates would find hard to turn away,” Mr. Toner said.

Another issue working against the financing system, they said, is state-by-state limits, which the FEC wants to abolish because the limits are too low to weed out fringe candidates. Presidential candidates are required to raise only $100,000 — $5,000 in 20 states — to qualify for matching funds.

“Some candidates raise that kind of money in a single week,” Mr. Toner said.

He said that limit could be raised to $15,000 in 20 states, making it a more credible bar of broad-based public support without being oppressive for third-party candidates.

The commissioners said a third problem that needs to be addressed is the lack of public interest in funding the system through tax returns.

Each person who files a tax return is asked whether he wants to allot $3 to the presidential public funding system. That money goes toward the general and primary matching funds.

In recent years, fewer people have opted into the system. From 1974 to 1984, 20 percent to 30 percent of filers contributed. In the past six years, that participation has dropped to between 11 percent and 12 percent.

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