WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Tuesday released a policy
statement formally opposing a House Republican bill to end the
public-financing system of presidential elections.
The statement, released by the Office of Management and Budget, urged
that public financing be "fixed rather than dismantled" and argued
that, absent some form of taxpayer money, candidates would be completely
dependent on "corporations and special interests" and forced into an
"endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters."
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered similar
sentiments, telling The Huffington Post during his daily press briefing
that "ensuring that we have a fair campaign system is something that we
The two statements add up to a relatively rare show of force from the
Obama White House, which often prefers not to publicly argue for
particular legislative action. Campaign-finance reform advocates
welcomed the show of support, coming just ahead of the House debate over
H.R. 359, a Republican bill that would eliminate public funds for
"The current system is very clearly broken - reformers and President
Obama agree on this," Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign,
wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "It's just as clear that the
White House and Congress should now work together to fix the outdated
system, not repeal it, by giving more clout to small contributors."
But it's hard to see Obama as the ideal spokesman for public financing. He was, after all, the first presidential candidate since Watergate to opt out of the public system, freeing his campaign to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite insistence that he favors strengthening campaign-finance
laws, there is no indication that Obama will use the public system in
his 2012 reelection campaign, and his aides have done little to tamp
down talk that it might be the first billion-dollar election.
As a result, the president has become a symbol for Republicans to
exploit, not just as a means of rallying their base behind H.R. 359, but
to argue that public financing is a hopeless, wasteful and antiquated
"Congress must prioritize the way that taxpayer dollars are spent,"
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
(R-Va.), told The Huffington Post. "The reality is that political
campaigns operate entirely differently today than they did in the 1970s.
Technological advancements have fundamentally altered modern elections
so that all candidates have the opportunity to communicate to broad
audiences and secure the resources needed to run a successful campaign, a
fact that was proven by President Obama and his team."