If the income tax checkoff was so controversial in the 1960s, how did it survive the political battles in Congress?

The old battle lines that cut across both parties in 1966 and 1967 became partisan after Vice President Hubert Humphrey's 1968 presidential campaign plunged the Democratic Party $9 million in debt. The party's dire financial straits brought about factional unity behind another public funding bill, which Democrats introduced in the Senate in 1971. Rather than include it in the FECA of 1971, however, they followed Long's tactic of attaching their bill as an amendment to a House-passed tax bill.

The Democrats' proposal had two parts: reviving the checkoff and providing tax incentives for small contributions. The tax incentives provision passed by a large bipartisan majority, and the tax checkoff passed by a slim partisan majority. But the Democrats' unity was not complete: Congress kicked the can down the road again, postponing the effective date of the checkoff until 1973 and barring any payments from the fund until 1976. This was enough to satisfy President Nixon, who signed the tax bill into law.6

Then came Watergate, and a rise in support for public funding. Most Republicans still opposed the idea, but the presidential public funding program that Congress passed as part of the 1974 FECA amendments was co-sponsored by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Hugh Scott (R-PA). The checkoff was now the core of a new way to finance presidential elections. And Congress made the decisions it had put off twice before: it created the Federal Election Commission to administer the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, ensured that the money would go to candidates rather than parties, and decided that the program would cover primary and general elections as well as the parties' nominating conventions.

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