Groups Urge Obama to Preserve Presidential Public Financing Program

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741
Karilyn Gower (202) 588-7779

Groups Urge Obama to Preserve Presidential Public Financing Program

Obama Should Veto H.R. 2019

WASHINGTON - Public Citizen and nine other civic groups today called on President Barack Obama to veto H.R. 2019, legislation that repeals a portion of the presidential public financing program while masquerading as a bill to fund pediatric research.

The bill was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. After Harper was unable to persuade Congress to approve earlier legislation that would have entirely defunded the public financing program, Harper re-worked the bill into what became labeled the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” (named after a 10-year-old child who died last year from brain cancer). The legislation transfers public funds used to pay for the nominating conventions into the general treasury, then states that those funds may be used for pediatric research, if Congress ever decides to appropriate the funds for that purpose.

“This is a fig-leaf bill whose only real intent is to whittle away at the presidential public financing program,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “The presidential public financing system needs to be repaired, not repealed.”

The presidential public financing program provides qualified candidates with matching funds in the primary election, full public financing in the general election and grants to pay for the presidential nominating conventions. Harper’s measure addresses only public financing for the conventions.

Each party is given about $18 million in public funds to help finance their nominating conventions. Nearly all presidential candidates participated in the public financing program from 1976 through 2004, though in recent elections, most candidates have opted out of the system because Congress has failed to modernize the program to keep up with the flood of money – particularly from corporations and the wealthy – that is funneled into elections by outside groups.

“While those behind this legislation pretend they are allocating money to a noble cause, Congress has in fact slashed funding for this type of research in the budget by far more than would be added by this bill,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “This bill does not even explicitly guarantee funds for pediatric research. It seems the real agenda is to directly attack presidential public financing.”

If the convention funding is appropriated for pediatric research, it would provide less than 0.05 of 1 percent of the agency’s $30 billion budget. Given current spending caps on governmental agencies, Congress also would have to pass legislation lifting the spending ceiling for the National Institutes of Health to carry through with this appropriation, something that Congress is very unlikely to do.

Public Citizen calls upon Obama to veto this cynical measure.

View the letter (PDF) to Obama.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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