Money in Politics

Presidential Public Financing



What if we could elect a president without having to worry about who was paying for his or her campaign and what they might want in return? Wouldn’t it be good if we could be certain that the president wouldn’t need to raise money to run for reelection, would never be tempted to do a favor for some businessman or labor leader in exchange for a campaign contribution?


We can, but we and our representatives in Congress must work to make it happen.


Since the 1970s, when the corruption that grew out of Richard Nixon’s unfettered pursuit of campaign contributions drove him from the White House and shook our democracy to its core, we’ve had a system of public financing for presidential campaigns.


Common Cause spearheaded creation of that system. It worked reasonably well for awhile, stopping large, corrupting donations to candidates for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, and covering the full cost of the fall campaign. But in the last decade, the rising cost of campaigning has driven prospective presidents to renounce public funds and go back to raising their own money, with all the risk of corruption that accompanies it. In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain together raised more than $1 billion, leaving themselves beholden to stock market and real estate speculators, banking and insurance tycoons, union executives and other special interests.


Then, in 2010, a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United cleared the way for corporations and unions to spend as much as they like to advocate the election or defeat of candidates for president, Congress and all other offices. Special interest groups now are preparing to pump hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it from secret donors, into the 2012 presidential race; some members of Congress are trying to dismantle what remains of the public financing system.


Common Cause believes there’s a better way to finance presidential campaigns. We need to overhaul the public financing system so that a mix of public funds and small gifts from individual donors provides candidates with enough money to run winning campaigns. We need to control “independent” spending on campaigns by rich individuals, businesses and groups so that they’re not able to use their economic power to drown out other voices.


Common Cause is committed to working with other reform groups and members of Congress to save and improve the presidential public financing system. Scrapping the system invites a new era of “anything goes” campaign fundraising and leaves the wealthy political investors who already dominate both major parties free to tighten their grip on our democracy.


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