- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saying it has become an obsolete waste of money, the House on Wednesday voted to end the taxpayer-funded presidential campaign finance system that has fallen out of favor over the past decade as candidates have chosen to ignore it.

The bill steps back from the 1970s-era dream of publicly financed campaigns. More than $600 million could be saved over the next decade by ending the system that channels taxpayer dollars to presidential candidates who agree to abide by fundraising and spending limits.

Republicans said the 239-160 vote was just a recognition of how broken the system has become, particularly after Barack Obama reversed a campaign pledge and opted out of the primary and general election matching funds in 2008.

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“It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of campaigns,” said Rep. Aaron Schock, Illinois Republican.

Despite his decision to opt out in 2008, Mr. Obama on Tuesday announced that he opposed the Republicans’ bill. He said the system should be fixed rather than ended, and predicted that corruption would grow with the end of publicly financed presidential campaigns.

Congressional Democrats echoed his call and said walking away from public financing for presidential campaigns probably deals a death blow to efforts to have all federal campaigns publicly funded.

“This repeal bill is the beginning of the end of any hope of a system of public financing for all elections in this country,” said Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey, California Democrat.

The public system is funded by taxpayers who voluntarily check off the box on their income tax forms that sends $3 to the Federal Election Commission. But fewer Americans are checking that box — just 7.3 percent volunteered their money in 2010, down from a high of 28.7 percent in 1980 — leaving the system short of money.

Republicans repeatedly questioned Mr. Obama’s opposition to their bill, rejecting his prediction of corruption and arguing that if he were serious about reforming the system he would have submitted legislation during the first two years of his administration. Instead, they said, he is preparing for his own re-election while once again bypassing the public financing route.

The GOP also said there is no way to fix the system that wouldn’t require a major increase in government spending and force taxpayers to fund campaigns with which they disagree.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, introduced his own version of the legislation Wednesday.

Senate Democrats, though, signaled their opposition. They said the move was particularly ill-timed given last year’s Supreme Court decision undercutting congressional efforts to regulate political fundraising.

“This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision. It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Wednesday’s vote was part of House Republicans’ vow to hold weekly sessions to cut specific spending.

“Governing is choosing and prioritizing. This is $600 million that doesn’t feed a single American, doesn’t educate a single American,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoma Republican who sponsored the House version. “In an era when we have to make genuinely hard decisions, to me this is a no-brainer.”

The bill also made good on Republicans’ promise to allow more open floor debate. The measure came to the floor under somewhat open rules that allowed all lawmakers to offer amendments as long as they had submitted them to the Congressional Record.

The House adopted one amendment, offered by Rep. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat, to ensure that the savings from the bill go to reducing the deficit rather than being spent elsewhere. That amendment passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 396-7. All seven opposition votes were cast by Democrats.

The House also rejected a motion by Democrats to attach new disclosure requirements for corporations that fund political advertisements in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling.

The Democrats’ motion was rejected by a 228-173 vote.

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