Public Campaign Financing and the $3 Box

I have never completely understood the little $3 donation to the Presidential Election box on the 1040 tax form. Nor did I understand its true relation to public campaign financing. Come to find out from everything I’ve just read, neither do most Americans.

Whenever surveyed or polled or asked to comment, people either say they don’t really understand the program or that they don’t think the government needs any more of their money. I’ve said both.

The intent vs. where we are today should make anyone question the program. As it says on the IRS’ 1040 form, it was designed to “reduce candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups and places candidates on an equal financial footing in the general election.” The idea started with Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 to curb corruption and it’s been a battle ever since its first official years of operation in the 1970’s. (It got a big boost from Nixon's election and subsequent Watergate scandal.)

But I don’t quite understand how this fund reduces dependence on private money. So much money comes from corporate and fellow millionaire fundraising, why would a candidate use this fund at all? From what I see from some contestants (I use the word purposefully), most like depending on the big money donors, because it makes their races easier and their political lives much more comfy. Besides, the spending limit is currently set at $150 million (actually it’s less, it can just be upped to this amount) and I think the going rate for presidential elections is $500 million. What candidate would go for it?

Come to find out, every President since 1976 has used the fund. If I understand correctly, they just haven’t limited themselves to the public funds.

Just last month, Barack Obama announced that, should he win the Democratic primary battle, he would participate in the public funding system to finance his general election race if the Republican nominee followed suit. Hillary, of course, has declined public funding altogether. She knows she can raise much more money privately. (I digress, but God help us! She can’t remember what she thinks now!!)

I guess I never completely grasped that all nominees in a race would have to agree to use public funding and only public funding for it to be fair. And we taxpayers would have to check that box knowing that the money is all in one fund divided among the contestant. So, despite my feelings about Hillary, I might have to say I would fund a gallon of gas for her bus (as if).

Can I live with that? I think so. I already fund most of her and her husband's life anyway just through the ex-President program. But I digress again. Back to public funding. Isn’t it fair? Doesn’t it provide me with more choices and more people to choose from? Would it possibly result in a better selection of decent people, a better class of folks than the money hungry, greedy ones of late? Wouldn’t it decrease the corporate role in politics just a bit? Baby steps, after all.

People tend to be more concerned with health care, education, privacy, defense, and so on. The list is never-ending. We are distracted with the little battles, while they rob us blind – of our rights, our money, and our democracy. We need to  focus and make the point over and over that we can’t get anywhere on any other issue until we fix legalized bribery. No issue is as important as getting money out of politics. We can’t solve any issue fairly and logically as long as corporate allegiance is present.

Every time public campaign financing has been on a ballet it has won. The more states that try this, the more experience we have with it and the better we can make it work.

I could go on and on about facts I’ve learned during my recent quest for public funding knowledge, but I’ll just provide links here. I can’t put it any better, that’s for sure.

Public campaign financing is not a Bush issue. It’s not a presidential issue. It’s not a party issue. And it’s not a new issue. But it has become a survival of this country issue. And it is our duty to understand it.

John Adams said long ago, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” You can’t have a democracy without the knowledge of the people. Won’t work. Ever.

I am a worried woman.

We should want our government to serve us, our elected officials to be indebted to us. Ahhh, utopia. Public funding is a step in the right direction. We should also register as Independents at all costs. Everyone, even the die-hard party folks should do this. Candidates should feel like they have to work for our votes, not just take them for granted.

Now, I’ll just make sure I check the little 1040 box from now on. And vote. There is that. Isn’t there?