Title 11--Federal Elections-(1/00)
In the aftermath of Watergate, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act, instituting a system of partial public financing for presidential primary candidates and full public financing for general election candidates. Candidates who qualify and agree to abide by certain restrictions receive payments from U.S. Treasury. The federal payments come out of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which is filled by the $3 check-off on federal income tax forms. For the 2000 cycle these payments totaled $225.3 million.
In 1996 the campaign finance system experienced a catastrophic failure. Laws were bent, if not broken, and stories about White House coffees, Lincoln bedroom sleepovers, and Chinese money filled the headlines through much of 1997. The Federal Election Commission has proved ineffective at enforcing campaign finance laws that are themselves in need of an overhaul. Large soft money contributions to the political parties have drawn particular criticism. While the parties were chastened by the costly public relations disaster that followed the 1996 campaign and instituted safeguards in their fundraising procedures, soft money intake in the 2000 cycle soared to record levels. The parties' use of soft money to buy "issue ads" in coordination with the presidential campaigns render the spending restrictions meaningless; this prompted an unsuccessful legal challenge by Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause and Archibald Cox, former Watergate Special Prosecutor.
aspects of the
campaign finance system bear examination. For example, the $1,000
limit on individual contributions has not been adjusted for inflation
the law was enacted in 1974 and is now worth about one-third of the
level. And, while public financing has vocal advocates, citizen
in the income tax check-off has fallen to new lows, sinking to only
on 1997 returns compared to 27.5 percent on 1976 returns.
ConventionsImmediately after their respective conventions, the campaigns of the Democratic and Republican nominees each received grants of $67.56 million to cover general election campaign expenses ($20 million in 1974 dollars, adjusted for inflation). The Reform party nominee, by virtue of Ross Perot's 1996 showing, will get about $12.6 million. Other candidates must scrabble to raise money as best as they can.
The major parties receive public funds to put on their national nominating conventions, based on the 1974 figure of $4 million, adjusted for inflation. Third parties whose presidential nominees received at least five percent of the vote in the last election also can receive funds toward their conventions.
The Democratic and Republican parties each received $13,512,000 in public funds to put on their national conventions ($4 million in 1974 dollars, adjusted for inflation). The Reform party, by virtue of its 1996 showing, received $2,522,690.
For primary candidates there is a voluntary system of partial public financing. After a candidate qualifies by meeting the $100,000 threshold, his or her campaign becomes eligible to receive matching funds. Contributions from individuals of up to $250 are matched dollar for dollar with payments from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Candidates begin receiving payments in January 2000. They must agree to comply with spending limits, based on the 1974 figure of $10 million, adjusted for inflation. These limits can pose difficulties; in 1996 a heated primary battle left the Dole campaign with little money for about four months leading up to the convention. A candidate can choose not to participate in the matching funds program and thereby spend as much as he or she wants, but contributions from individuals still may not exceed $1,000. (There is no limit to how much a candidate can spend of his or her own money).
All told, during the 2000 primaries, eighteen major candidates raised more than $230 million in individual contributions (that does not include $2.8 million in PAC contributions, $3.5 million in transfers from previous campaigns, and $43.2 million in loans, $42.3 million from Steve Forbes). Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who declined matching funds, brought in more than $90 million in individual contributions, a record. A total of ten candidates received just over $60 million in matching fund payments. See tables below:Demonstrate broad support: Raise $5,000 in 20 states in contributions of $250 or less.
for Public Integrity's The Buying of the President (1996)
Copyright 1999, 2000,
2002 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.