House votes to end tax financing for presidential candidates

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the failed presidential tax financing program Wednesday afternoon on a bipartisan 239-160 vote.

“Today’s vote is a win for common sense, as supporters of this political pyramid scheme could offer no compelling reason to continue wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “Hopefully, the Senate will follow up with a vote to end these unnecessary subsidies for would-be presidents.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that he will block consideration of the bill. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a companion bill in the Senate soon after the House vote, S. 194. If that’s unsuccessful, at least one Senator plans to move the measure forward by attaching it to another piece of legislation.

During floor debate over H.R. 359, opponents of repeal continually attempted to shift debate to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government could not prohibit independent political spending.

Virtually every speaker supporting the program evoked the specter of Watergate and predicted the American Republic could not survive without tax subsidies of presidential campaigns. But opponents struggled to explain how democracy survived after President Obama’s record-breaking $745 million 2008 campaign, during which he rejected taxpayer subsidies, or the failure of the tax financing system to restore voter confidence in government.

“The opposition seems to be living in a fantasy world where there is no quantifiable cost-benefit analysis of spending programs and the value of a bill is measured only by free-floating ideology,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith. “They’re detached from the observable reality that after 35 years the program has not accomplished any of the goals they claim it does.”

A Congressional Budget Office report estimated that eliminating the program would save $617 million over the next ten years. American taxpayers have recognized the program’s waste, reducing the tax check-offs that fund it from 28.7% in 1980 to 7.3% in 2009. Opponents of H.R. 359 admit the system is failing to accomplish its objectives but argue that instead of eliminating the spending, the government should substantially increase spending on the program.

Fred Wertheimer, a lobbyist for the pro-regulation organization Democracy21, called for a government propaganda campaign to prop up the failed presidential program. “To improve participation in the check-off, an education campaign is needed on the check-off,” Wertheimer said.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.

Update: This post was modified at 3:19.

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