The way the two major parties control the presidential debates is a perfect microcosm of how political debates are restricted in general. Though typically shrouded in secrecy, several facts about this process have recently come to light and they are quite instructive.
US House Passes Bill To End Public Funding Of Campaigns
The U.S. House passed a bill today to end public financing of presidential campaigns, but the bid to kill a system considered outdated by some Republicans could end there.
The vote was 239-160. Ten Democrats supported the measure and one Republican voted no.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., sponsor of the measure says the Watergate-era program of taxpayers helping to pay for presidential campaigns is "obsolete."
Instead, the bill seeks to have presidential candidates rely on private funds for their campaigns and transfer the remaining balance in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to the Treasury to help pay off debt.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said Republicans are trying "to further erode whatever protections our government has left against a state of democracy for the highest bidder."
Republicans won the House majority on promises to chop federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the campaign bill would save $617 million over 10 years -- a fraction of the $1.5 trillion budget deficit now projected for this year.
The Obama administration said the measure would deal another blow to the campaign financing system, on the heels of last year's Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that opened the door to more election spending by corporations and unions.
"This is not the time to further empower the special interests or to obstruct the work of reform," said the official Statement of Administration Policy, issued earlier this week by the White House budget office.
The public-financing system was created in the 1970s, as a way to end the abuses highlighted during the Watergate scandal. USA TODAY's Fredreka Schouten reported earlier this week thattaxpayer support has waned, with only 7.3% of taxpayers choosing in 2009 to check off a box on their federal income tax forms to donate $3 toward the public-financing fund.
Shortly after the House passed its bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a companion measure in the Senate. "The American people have spoken and the verdict is clear," said McConnell, R-Ky. "They'd rather reduce the deficit than pay for attack ads and robo-calls."
President Obama set a record for fundraising in his 2008 campaign, relying on private donors, and bypassed the public financing system.
Republican John McCain, however, did not forgo public funds and received more than $84 million in taxpayer money to help pay for his general election bid against Obama.