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Posted at 3:41 PM ET, 01/26/2011

House votes to do away with public financing of presidential campaigns

By Felicia Sonmez

The House on Wednesday passed a measure that would put an end to public financing of presidential campaigns and national political conventions, the latest Republican-led effort to bring down the deficit by reining in government spending.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), passed Wednesday on a 239-to-160 vote, with 10 Democrats joining most Republicans to support the measure. Two potential presidential candidates -- Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) --- voted with their party in favor of the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) praised the measure's passage Wednesday afternoon and said that he had introduced matching legislation in the Senate.

"In a time of exploding deficits and record debt the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians," McConnell said. "I appreciate Rep. Cole's efforts to protect the taxpayers, and the House Republican leadership for ensuring this taxpayer protection was brought to a timely vote."

Still, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Obama has publicly vowed to veto it if it reaches his desk.

The measure would eliminate the option for taxpayers to check a box on their tax returns that allows them to contribute $3 from their federal income tax to the Presidential Election Fund. Republicans cite figures from the Congressional Budget Office indicating that the proposal would save the country $617 million over the next decade. They also note that the number of Americans participating in the program has been declining in recent years, from 28 percent several decades ago to 7.3 percent last year.

Many Democrats opposing the measure on Wednesday sought to broaden the debate to include the Supreme Court's decision in last year's Citizens United case, arguing that doing away with public financing would increase the clout of special interests.

"One year ago, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to unlimited, uninhibited, undisclosed special interest spending in our elections and unlimited special interest influence over our public policy debate," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a floor speech. She added that eliminating the Presidential Election Fund "opens the door for foreign-owned entities and large corporations to enjoy an even greater role in the funding of political campaigns."

Cole acknowledged Wednesday that "there's a legitimate philosophical debate as to whether you believe in public financing or not."

"I don't; some of my friends on the other side certainly do," he said. "But at the end of the day, this system doesn't work, regardless. It's broken. It's not enough money to make a difference; it's just enough money to waste and distort the process."

The then Democrats voting with Republicans in supporting the measure were Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.).

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) was the only Republican to join most Democrats in opposing the measure. Thirty-five members did not vote.

By Felicia Sonmez  | January 26, 2011; 3:41 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Next: Senate Democrats: House GOP budget plan would cost 1 million jobs


We got here because we haven't had full public financing of campaigns all along.

However, the Republicans are correct. This system just has not worked. It's a waste of money.

Finally, Obama's veto threat is hypocritical. He himself bypassed this federal funding after promising to take it.

Posted by: mrfr1 | January 27, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

The founding fathers would laugh at the idea that we consider ourselves a democracy. So would the Ancient Greeks.

If I was Tunisian or Egyptian, I would not look at today's America for guidance or advice. They have suffered long enough at the hands of those beholden to private interests. The 2008 bankster recession was just our first beating.

Posted by: mbalick | January 27, 2011 8:04 AM | Report abuse

... another step closer to the best government money can buy.
I doubt that it ever made that much difference, since most major candidates opt out, but it at least showed a willingness to try to address the issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | January 26, 2011 5:04 PM | Report abuse

They don't need it as they're all bought and paid for by the banks, insurance companies, etc...

We've already got the best government money can buy, they just want to codify it.

At least prostitutes are honest about being prostitutes. That's more than you can say for most politicians, especially Republican ones.

Posted by: affable100 | January 26, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

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