The Washington Post: Public campaign funding is so broken that candidates turned down $292 million in free money


In the current market, why would any self-respecting presidential candidate accept $96 million for the general election campaign and $48 million for the primaries — the amount the law makes available for 2016 candidates — when private investors in the political process are prepared to up the ante to billions?  To do so would be to risk getting seriously out-spent by an opponent, as John McCain was in his 2000 fight for the Republican nomination against Bush and his 2008 general election campaign against Obama. McCain’s campaign lawyer, former FEC chairman Trevor Potter, says the Arizona Republican was “screwed by the failure of this system.”

There’s another statistic that supporters of public financing like to cite: The number of fundraisers Ronald Reagan attended during his presidential campaign (the number varies, but the general conclusion is that it was in the single digits) compared to the more than 200 Obama headlined in 2012. “Is this the life we want our presidents to lead?” says Nick Penniman, founder of Issue One, a group that’s trying to develop a bipartisan consensus for campaign finance reform. “That’s the problem,” agrees former FEC chair Potter. Presidents and presidential candidates “end up spending a great deal of time with a very small circle of people,” he says. Reviving a public financing system would, Potter argues, free presidents so “they can spend time with the other 99 percent.”

None of the supporters of the public finance system believes a fix is imminent. Many believe it will have to come as part of a broader overhaul of campaign finance laws. What hopes they have are pegged to the theory that the sheer amount of money sloshing around and the effort it takes to raise it isn’t sustainable. Some, like Potter, cite the now-it-can-be-told column Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) penned about the mortifications of fundraising after he announced his retirement. The money seekers aren’t the only ones with a case of the fed-ups: “I had one Republican donor tell me that the caliber of the bullet we’re putting in right now is going to blow the barrel off,” says Penniman.

To read the full story at The Washington Post, click here.