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Public money for presidential candidates has been around since the 1970s. It's a program intended to balance the influence of big political donors. But in recent presidential campaigns, it has played a smaller role compared to private money, as campaign costs skyrocketed. Yesterday, as NPR's Peter Overby reports, the House voted to kill public financing.
PETER OVERBY: The bill to ax public financing came to the House floor via the Internet - specifically YouCut, a website where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor invites people to vote on targets for budget cutting. Cantor posted about the public financing system and got lots of hits, so he made it the first YouCut program to be voted on by the House.
ERIC CANTOR: Voting to end the presidential election campaign fund should be a no-brainer.
OVERBY: Republicans said yesterday that public financing obviously hasn't cleaned up politics. And Dan Lungren of California said keeping it going would cost about $612 million over the next decade.
DAN LUNGREN: Governing is choosing and prioritizing. This is $612 million that doesn't feed a single American, doesn't educate a single American.
OVERBY: So, the GOP argued, better to put the money into deficit reduction. Democrats were quick to tie their appeal bill to the gusher of undisclosed money in last year's midterm elections. Most of the hidden contributors gave to Republican advertising groups. Here's Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.
NANCY PELOSI: We should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.
OVERBY: And Lynn Woolsey, of California, drew a connection to the way House Republicans handled the bill itself.
LYNN WOOLSEY: Keeping with the spirit of secrecy and lack of transparency, it's somehow fitting that this bill comes to the floor without any hearings, without any committee referral, without full debate or deliberation.
OVERBY: Illinois Republican, Aaron Schock, accused the president of what Schock called profound hypocrisy.
AARON SCHOCK: It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.
OVERBY: Democrat David Price of North Carolina responded.
DAVID PRICE: Talk about having it both ways. He comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.
OVERBY: Michael Malbin is a political scientist, who several years ago, developed some proposals to revitalize public financing. He says there's a serious conversation that ought to happen.
MICHAEL MALBIN: The key question is whether any public financial system, a redesigned system, would serve good and is it a proper use of public funds.
OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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