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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns

R. Sam Garrett
Acting Section Research Manager/Specialist in American National

There is a consensus that the presidential public financing program is antiquated and offers insufficient benefits to attract the most competitive candidates. No major candidate accepted public funds in 2012. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama became the first person, since the public financing program’s inception, elected President without accepting any public funds. For some, these developments signal an urgent need to save the public campaign financing program that has existed since the 1970s; for others, they suggest that the program is unnecessary.

Six bills introduced in the 113
th Congress would terminate all or parts of the program. These measures—H.R. 94, H.R. 95, H.R. 260, H.R. 270, H.R. 1724, and S. 118—are discussed in the next section of this report. The 112th Congress also considered terminating the program; two bills passed the House but died in the Senate. On January 26, 2011, the House passed (239-160) H.R. 359, sponsored by Representative Cole, to repeal public financing of presidential campaigns and nominating conventions. In addition, on December 1, 2011, the House passed (235-190) H.R. 3463. The latter bill, sponsored by Representative Harper, proposed to terminate the public financing program (in addition to eliminating the Election Assistance Commission) and transfer remaining amounts to the general fund of the U.S. Treasury for use in deficit reduction.

This report provides a brief policy overview and raises potential issues for congressional consideration. Readers are encouraged to consult the following CRS products for additional information.

  • CRS Report RL34534, Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns: Overview and Analysis, by R. Sam Garrett; 
  • CRS Report RL34630, Federal Funding of Presidential Nominating Conventions: Overview and Policy Options, by R. Sam Garrett and Shawn Reese; and 
  • CRS Report R41542, The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress, by R. Sam Garrett (the “Public Financing Issues” section). 

For a discussion of constitutional considerations, which are beyond the scope of this report and those noted above, readers may consult CRS Report RL30669, The Constitutionality of Campaign Finance Regulation: Buckley v. Valeo and Its Supreme Court Progeny, by L. Paige Whitaker.

Date of Report: May 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number: R41604
Price: $19.95

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