Would you turn down $23 million if someone offered it to you?

No, of course you wouldn’t. 

Why It’s Time To End Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns. No One Gives to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Anymore.

If you’re running for president and someone else offered you $716 million to reject the smaller offer.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the idea of publicly funding presidential campaigns.

The government, which offered presidential candidates $22.8 million each in 2012, can’t compete with wealthy contributors and super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the race.

Bag-of-money

 In the 2012 presidential election, the two major-party candidates raised and spent $2 billion, far more than the publicly run Presidential Election Campaign Fund offered. 

The public-funding mechanism has outlived its usefulness in its current form and needs to be either overhauled or abandoned altogether, critics say. In fact, no serious presidential aspirant take public financing seriously anymore, and most don’t even give it a fleeting thought.

“Taking matching funds has really been seen as the scarlet letter. It says you’re not viable and you’re not going to be nominated by your party,” former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner told Bloomberg Business.

What Is Public Financing

The Presidential Election Campaign Fund, the public funding mechanism, raises money through a checkoff on your income-tax forms. You’ve probably noticed and wondered about the question: “Do you want $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?”

Millions of Americans check the box every year, directing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars toward presidential campaigns and political parties to help pay for their annual conventions.

But the amount of taxpayer money being channeled toward presidential campaigns has dwindled over the years.

Why Public Financing is Failing

The portion of the American public who contribute to the fund has shrunk dramatically since Congress created it in the post-Watergate era. In fact, in 1976 more than a quarter of taxpayers – 27.5 percent – answered yes to that question. Support of public financing reached its peak in 1980, when 28.7 percent of taxpayers contributed.

In 1995, the fund raised nearly $68 million from the $3 tax checkoff. But the 2012 presidential election it had drawn less than $40 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Fewer than one in ten taxpayers supported the fund in the presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012. 

Why Public Financing is Flawed

The idea of financing presidential campaigns with public money stems from the effort limit the influence of influential, wealthy individuals. So to make public financing work candidates must adhere to restrictions on the amount of money they can raise in a campaign. But agreeing to such limits puts them at a signification disadvantage.

Many modern presidential candidates are likely to be unwilling to agree to such limits on how much they can raise and spend. In the 2008 presidential election, Democratic U.S Sen. Barack Obama became the first major party candidate to reject public financing in the general election. Eight years earlier, in 2000, Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas shunned public financed in the GOP primaries.

Both candidates found the public money unnecessary. Both candidates found the spending restrictions associated with it too cumbersome. And in the end both candidates made the right move.

They won the race.

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