CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Thursday, December 1, 2011, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3463, a bill to terminate taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns and the Election Assistance Commission, under a rule. The bill was introduced on November 17, 2011, by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and referred to the Committee on House Administration as well as the Committee on Ways and Means.
H.R. 3463 would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF), terminate public financing of presidential campaigns and return PECF funds to the general treasury for deficit reduction. In addition, the bill would terminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and transfer the remaining operations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). According to the Committee on House Administration, eliminating the PECF would immediately return $199 million to the public treasury for deficit reduction and would save taxpayers $447 million over five years. Additionally, terminating the EAC would reduce spending by $33 million over five years. In total, H.R. 3463 would reduce spending and deficits by $480 million over five years.
TITLE I—TERMINATION OF TAXPAYER FINANCING OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGNS
H.R. 3463 would eliminate public financing of presidential campaigns by terminating the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) and doing away with the option for taxpayers to designate $3 of their tax liability to the PECF. Specifically, the bill would: 1) terminate a taxpayer’s option to contribute a portion of their income tax return to the PECF; 2) transfer the entire current balance of the PECF to the general Treasury fund; and 3) terminate the current statutory authority to spend federal funds on presidential campaigns.
TITLE II—TERMINATION OF ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION
Termination of Election Assistance Commission: H.R. 3463 would terminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and transfer the remaining operations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within 60 days of enactment. OMB would be required to carry out EAC’s outstanding contracts and “take the necessary steps to wind up the affairs of the Commission.” However, OMB would be prohibited from renewing any contract or agreement. According to CBO’s analysis of similar legislation (H.R. 672), the bill would save taxpayers $33 million over five years.
Transfer of Election Administration Functions to Federal Election Commission: H.R. 3463 would transfer the functions of the Office of Voting System Testing and Certification and its existing staff to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The bill would also transfer to the FEC all responsibilities pertaining to the adoption of Voluntary Voting System Guidelines; responsibilities for maintaining a clearinghouse on the election administration experiences of states; reporting requirements under Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); and responsibilities for regulations concerning the national voter registration.
Replacement of Standards Board and Board of Advisors with Guidelines Review Board: H.R. 3463 would establish an 82-member Guidelines Review Board to replace the EAC’s Standards Board and Board of Advisors. The Guidelines Review Board would be made up of stakeholders from the elections community to review proposed Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) in the same manner currently done by the Advisory Board and Standards Board.
Studies: The bill would require the Comptroller General to conduct a study of the process for adoption of VVSGs and develop recommendations to improve such procedures. The bill would require this report to be presented to Congress no later than two years after enactment of the Act. The bill would also require the FEC to conduct a study of the procedures for the testing, certification, decertification, and recertification of voting system hardware and software and develop a recommendation on the entity best suited to oversee and carry out such procedures. Lastly, the bill would require this report to be presented to Congress no later than two years after enactment of the Act.
TAXPAYER FINANCING OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGNS
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) was created in 1971 by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and first used to provide funds for presidential campaigns in 1976. According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—with the exception of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama—every presidential campaign since 1976 has been financed in part with public taxpayer funds. Under current law, the PECF is financed by voluntary contributions from taxpayers who check a box on their tax returns to designate a portion of their tax dollars to the PECF. Today, the contribution levels are $3 for individual income tax filers and $6 for joint filers. The PECF provides funding to candidates in the primary and general elections through matching funds of up to $250 of any contribution from a taxpayer. Though taxpayers may contribute up to $2,000 to a candidate, only $250 of a contribution is ever matchable.
Candidates who accept public financing through the PECF must agree to limit their campaign spending to a specific amount. The FEC is responsible for administering the public financing program and determining which candidates are eligible and the amount to which they are entitled. In addition, the FEC audits all campaigns receiving public funds to verify that funds are used in accordance with the law. The Department of Treasury makes the payouts to the campaigns using funds from the PECF. According to CBO, the fund currently collects about $42 million annually, and its balance was $195 million at the end of 2010.
According to the FEC, participation in public financing for presidential candidates has declined rapidly in recent years. Prior to the 2004 presidential election total public funding payouts had increased every election cycle, from $72.7 million in 1976 to $239.5 million in 2000. Since 2000, however, participation by candidates has declined sharply and in 2008, total PECF payouts totaled $138.7 million. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), only eight candidates received matching funds during the primary and then-candidate Obama became “the first major-party nominee since the program's inception to completely decline public funds.” Despite the fact that then-candidate Obama eschewed using public financing, the White House previously issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) which “strongly opposes” alternative legislation to eliminate the PECF and save taxpayers $617 million over ten years.
According to the Committee on House Administration, despite spending approximately $1.5 billion since 1976, taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns has failed to improve the public’s trust in government, increase the number of quality candidates or increase the competitiveness of elections. Additionally, the public has rejected the system by choosing not to participate. The percentage of taxpayers participating dropped from 28.7 percent in 1980 to 7.3 percent in 2010—even though participating does not affect tax liability. Candidates and nominees now routinely opt out of the system altogether. In 2008, then-candidate Obama declined public financing during the general election and raised record dollar amounts. In the 2012 primary campaign, no candidate has requested primary certification and no viable primary or general election candidate will likely do so in the future.
THE ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. HAVA created new mandatory minimum standards for states to follow in several areas of election administration. The law provided funding to help states meet these new standards, replace voting systems and improve election administration. HAVA also established the EAC to assist the states regarding HAVA compliance and to distribute HAVA funds to the states. EAC is also responsible for creating voting system guidelines and operating the federal government’s voting system certification program.
According to the Committee on House Administration, since 2005, the year Congress originally intended to sunset the EAC, the agency has more than doubled in size while its programs continue to decline. The National Association of Secretaries of State—the direct beneficiaries of the agency’s dwindling services – has passed two resolutions calling for the EAC’s dissolution. Its election research function is obsolete as it has completed four of the five federally mandated election studies. The one outstanding study is six years overdue and mired in interagency controversy.
The agency, recently the subject of two hiring discrimination lawsuits, spends over 50 percent of its budget on administrative costs. Its budget request for 2012 devoted 51.7 of its budget to management and overhead costs, meaning the agency would use $5,406,718 to manage programs totaling $3,486,601. The Agency has allocated all of its remaining election grants and even zeroed out its requests for additional grant funds in its last three annual budget requests. While its work diminishes, the agency spends over 50 percent of its budget on administrative costs.
In addition to two recent hiring discrimination lawsuits leveled against the agency, a 2008 survey found that a large portion of the agency’s ever-growing workforce is unsatisfied and feels that the agency fosters a hostile environment. Furthermore, 32 percent of the responding employees felt they could not report a violation of law without fear of retaliation, according to House Report 112-100.
A CBO score for H.R. 3463 was not available for as of press time. However, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates for similar legislation (H.R. 359 and H.R. 672) the bill would reduce spending by $480 million over five years and $650 million over the FY 2011-FY 2021 period.