How does the public funding program treat minor parties?
How to treat minor parties has been a problem for public-funding supporters since the first bill was introduced in 1904. The solution in the 1974 amendments was essentially the same one suggested seventy years earlier: allocate public funds based on a party's share of the popular vote in the previous election.
Three kinds of parties were eligible for public funds under the 1974 law: major, minor, and new. Major parties are ones whose presidential candidate received 25 percent or more of the popular vote in the preceding election; only the Republican and Democratic parties meet this definition. A minor party is one whose candidate received between 5 and 25 percent of the vote in the previous election. A new party is one that did not run candidates in the previous election but would be eligible for funds if it received at least 5 percent of the vote. Since a new party cannot prove its eligibility until the election is over, it has to finance its campaign with private funds.17
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund is essentially for the two major parties. Everyone involved in the creation of the public funding program—the members of Congress who drafted and debated it, the outside reform groups who promoted it, the challengers who tried to kill it, and the circuit court judges and Supreme Court justices who ruled on its constitutionality—knew that there have been no genuine third parties since the demise of the Populist and Socialist parties early in the twentieth century. And they all agreed that some provision had to be made for minor parties and independents. But as a practical matter the program was designed for Republicans and Democrats.