CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, January 26, 2011, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 359, under a modified open rule. The rule provides for one hour of general debate equally divided between the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on House Administration. Following one hour of debate, the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule for a period not to exceed five hours. The rule makes in order amendments printed in the Congressional Record. The bill was introduced on January 20, 2011, by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and referred to the Committee on Ways and Means as well as the Committee on House Administration.
H.R. 359 would reduce direct spending by $617 million over ten years by eliminating the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) and thus eliminating public financing of presidential campaigns. 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 authority to spend federal funds on presidential 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-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 by 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 has issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) which “strongly opposes” eliminating the PECF and saving taxpayers $617 million.
According to CBO, H.R. 359 would reduce direct spending by $447 million over the FY 2011 – FY 2016 period and by $617 million over ten years.