NPR logo Debate: Is Public Financing Still Needed?

Election 2008 Debate: Is Public Financing Still Needed?

About This Debate: On Monday, Oct. 20, Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor, hosted an online debate about public financing between Fred Wertheimer, the president and CEO of Democracy 21, and Cleta Mitchell, a longtime campaign finance lawyer and a specialist in finance and election law. The debate, which took place in the comments section of this page, is over now. You can follow the discussion by reading the comments below, starting from the oldest ones. Feel free to post your own comments as well.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's campaign announced Sunday that he raised more than $150 million in September alone, a staggering amount that equals the combined spending of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry in the fall campaign four years ago. Obama is the first major-party presidential candidate to reject public financing for the fall campaign since the system was enacted in 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Republican John McCain has criticized Obama's decision to renege on pledges to partake of the public financing system, which limits candidates' spending to $84 million for the fall general election campaign. McCain, who is taking public financing, warns that Obama's record-shattering fundraising sets the stage for a new wave of scandals in the funding of presidential elections.

What does this mean for the future of the public financing system for presidential campaigns?

About the participants

Fred Wertheimer

Fred Wertheimer
Democracy 21

The president and CEO of Democracy 21, Wertheimer is a longtime advocate for the public finance system. This summer, he criticized Obama's decision not to accept public financing. Wertheimer admits that that spending limits in the public finance system have failed to keep up with the pace of spending in modern presidential campaigns, but he believes that the system is fundamentally worth preserving.

Cleta Mitchell

Cleta Mitchell

Mitchell is a campaign finance lawyer and specialist in campaign finance and election law. She argues that public financing doesn't work because — as evidenced by the Obama and McCain campaigns — the system doesn't decrease the candidates' need to raise money. She says the system stifles political speech, has become increasingly irrelevant and should be allowed to die a natural death.

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