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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lawmakers Seek To Reform Presidential Campaign System

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress have introduced bills to overhaul and modernize the U.S. public financing system to elect its presidents.

Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and David Price (D-NC) announced the introduction of legislation to fix the presidential public financing system. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate as well.

The legislation would take effect on January 1, 2009 and be effective for presidential elections following the 2008 election, however.

"We are heading into a presidential election in 2008, in which the two major party nominees are expected to decline public financing for their races and to spend $500 million each, or a combined $1 billion, in private contributions for their primary and general election campaigns," says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance advocacy organization. "In order to raise this massive amount of private campaign contributions, big-money fundraisers are bound to play a preeminent role in the presidential campaigns.

The presidential campaign bill increases the amount of matching funds for the presidential primaries from a 1:1 match for up to $250 of an individual's aggregate contributions, to a 4:1 match for up to $200 of an individual's contribution," Wertheimer adds.

The presidential campaign bill increases the spending limit for candidates who choose to participate in the presidential primary public financing system from its current level of approximately $45 million, to $150 million, with a sub-limit of no more than $100 million to be spent by April 1. The bill increases the spending limit for participating general election candidates from its current level of $75 million, to $100 million. The limits are indexed for inflation. The bill repeals the primary state-by-state spending limits.

To qualify for public financing in the primary election, a presidential candidate must raise $25,000 in each of 20 states, in amounts of no more than $200 of each individual's aggregate contribution. This increases the $5,000 per state requirement in current law. A candidate also must commit to accept public financing in both the primary and general election in order to receive public funds for the primary election.

The presidential campaign finance bill moves the starting date for the payment of matching funds to primary candidates from January 1 of the election year to six months before the first primary or caucus is held by a party to select it presidential nominee.

The presidential campaign finance bill provides that if one or more participating candidates in the primary election are running against a non-participating candidate of the same party who raises or spends more than 120 percent of the primary election spending limit, the spending limit for the participating candidates is increased to $150 million during the pre-April 1 period or $200 million for the whole primary period.

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