Fearing the Attack Ad: "Politicians vs. Sick Kids"

Barack Obama

On March 14, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that President Obama will sign into law a bill (H.R. 2019) that kills public financing of the presidential nominating conventions.  The bill, renamed the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, passed the Senate by voice vote on March 11.

This bill was the end of an on-going -- and now successful -- effort by House Republicans to partially dismantle the presidential public financing system.  Previous efforts, led by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), failed in the Senate as the Democratic leadership stepped up repeatedly to rebuff Republican attempts to attack the presidential public financing system.

This time around, however, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) came up with the idea of naming the bill after a young Virginia girl who died of brain cancer and designed the repeal in a way that gave the impression it was reprogramming the convention funds to pay for NIH pediatric research.  With a push from Virginia’s two Democratic Senators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his caucus gave in.

What a cynical ploy.  In a quintessential Washington maneuver, the truth is that the bill does not actually fund that research.  Rather, it takes the money away from the conventions and “authorizes” those research funds for the NIH.  A deeper dive into what the bill really does reveals that the bill does not appropriate the funds to the NIH (which are minuscule in the NIH budget), nor does it change the caps that the NIH appropriations work under.

A coalition of 10 reform groups wrote to President Obama calling for a veto, noting that the Administration issues a policy statement in 2011 opposing a previous measure to cut off money for public financing of conventions that has been in place since 1976.  

So what was the real game being played?  Fearing attack ads that featured “greedy politicians vs. sick kids,” the Senate Democratic leadership -- and President Obama -- blinked.

Of course, the presidential public financing system is indeed broken and defending it has become harder and harder as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his allies have repeatedly blocked efforts to update it.  So instead of working to fix or update the presidential public financing system, our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle are using a young girl’s tragic death to pass legislation that will protect themselves from attack ads.  Hard to imagine a more despicable act.