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US Lawmakers Want More Public Money In Presidential Campaigns January 30, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–As the cost of presidential campaigns moves toward the $1 billion mark, leading congressional advocates of tougher campaign finance laws want to reduce the influence of special interests by pumping more taxpayer money into the system.

Three House members and one senator Tuesday introduced legislation that would increase the amount of money in the presidential public financing system and increase the spending limits for candidates who participate in it. It wouldn’t change the rules for the 2008 presidential election.

“This system that’s in place now is not sustainable,” said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., who introduced the legislation in the House with Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and David Price, D-N.C. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

The legislation would triple the amount available to candidates during state primaries and eliminate state spending limits. It would increase the amount available for general elections to $100 million (More than $80 million would be available in 2008). It also would offer more money to candidates whose opponents chose to decline the public money and raise more on their own.

To pay for the extra money, the sponsors would increase the voluntary presidential campaign checkoff on income tax returns to $10 from $3.

The proposals follow Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision to avoid the public system entirely during her 2008 presidential bid. Other candidates, including Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are contemplating taking a similar step.

In 2004, President George W. Bush and Democrats Howard Dean of Vermont and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts turned down the money in the primaries. Kerry and Bush did accept general election funds.

Sponsors of the changes said they didn’t blame candidates for rejecting public financing altogether.

“The reality is if somebody did comply with this system, they couldn’t get elected,” Meehan said.

Notable by his absence from the group was McCain, whose name is synonymous with past efforts at toughening campaign laws. Conservatives have criticized him for his previous stands, claiming campaign finance laws have diluted their free-speech rights. The Republican National Committee this month passed a resolution denouncing the campaign law that McCain championed in 2002.

“We’d love to improve the system,” McCain said Tuesday. But he said he had been away from Washington and wasn’t familiar with the details of the new proposal. “I haven’t focused on it.”

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