Candidates, and the Times, Leave Public Financing

Once the strongest element of post-Watergate campaign reforms, the presidential public financing system now seems to be going down the drain. Its spending limits are too restrictive for the current era of mega-campaigns, and so far at least, every major candidate for 2008 has opted out, in favor of private contributions.

That fact has many wondering if the public financing system be saved, or if any attempt to keep big money out of presidential campaigns inevitably doomed to fail.

Already in the 2008 presidential race, the first declared candidate has dropped out — and money was a central issue.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, in announcing his decision to quit the race at a press conference in his home state, said that "It is money, and only money, that is the reason we are leaving today."

Other candidates, many better known than Vilsack, will likely be forced from the field before long. Back in 1974, Congress created a public financing system that helps candidates like Vilsack, who can raise at least a few million on their own.

But this year, the top candidates hope to raise $50 to $100 million, in the year before the race begins.

There is one glimmer of hope that remains for public financing.

Next week, the Federal Election Commission will rule on a special request made by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). It would let him raise money for the general election, and still choose to return it and take public financing if he wins the nomination.

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