At a press conference this afternoon marking Senate introduction of companion legislation to the House Presidential Funding Act, Representative David Price (D-NC) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) to highlight the urgent need to mend the public financing system for presidential campaigns. The move to save one of the country's most significant, post-Watergate campaign finance reforms comes as Americans are rapidly growing aware of the corrosive impact of recent Supreme Court decisions that opened the floodgates to special interest money in politics.
"Two days ago marked the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in," Rep. Price said. "Today, this flagship post-Watergate reform is clearly in need up an update, and Congress should provide it. Public financing has worked remarkably well and has strengthened our democracy in the process. The system has been used in general elections by every major party nominee from 1976 to 2004, and in primaries it has allowed a diverse range of candidates to challenge the party establishment."
"Presidential elections should be open, democratic processes where the candidates are focused on courting voters - not special interests and big donors," Sen. Udall said. "Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision changed everything. We cannot roll back the Supreme Court's decision, but we can try and adapt the system Congress created in 1974 after Watergate to make it useful in this new era of big money and politics."
"The Presidential Financing Act is an important piece of our work to ensure big-money special interests don't drown out the voice of individual voters, and I applaud Congressman Price and Senator Udall for their work on this issue," said Congressman Van Hollen. "We will keep fighting for passage of both this and the DISCLOSE Act -- together, this legislation will shine a light on outside money and ensure our democracy remains beholden to the American people and not well-heeled special interests."
The presidential public financing system was enacted as part of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, at a time when public confidence in government was at an all-time low. The system is funded through a voluntary income tax "check-off." It offers public matching funds to candidates who demonstrate their viability by raising small contributions. In exchange, they must abide by voluntary limits on private fundraising. The system has been credited with leveling the playing field by helping lesser-known candidates, such as then-Governor Ronald Reagan, run viable campaigns against better-funded opponents. Because the program has not been updated since 1974, it has become increasingly inadequate for today's presidential campaigns.
The Presidential Funding Act would modernize the system by increasing the public matching funds available to candidates, adjusting the program to today's front-loaded primary calendar, and further enhancing the role of donors who contribute $200 or less through a 4:1 match on their donations (the current match is 1:1).
Rep. Price is the lead sponsor of the House version of the Presidential Funding Act. Rep. Van Hollen is an original co-sponsor of the legislation. A summary of the Presidential Funding Act is below.