Is there is any chance for reviving public funding for presidential elections?

The presidential program may not be legally dead, but it is flat on its back. Congress has shown no interest in restoring it to good health, but reformers keep coming up with good ideas.

In 2003, Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold introduced a bill to strengthen the presidential system. They proposed modest adjustments such as raising the checkoff amount again, making a bigger grant to candidates, and setting higher limits for party spending on behalf of candidates. They also called for a four-to-one match for contributions in the primaries.

The bill went nowhere in 2003, but revised versions of it have been introduced in every succeeding Congress, and along the way it has become a bolder vision of reform. The current version, called the Empowering Citizens Act, would completely rewrite the presidential funding system. It treats funding for the primary and general elections the same way, by eliminating spending limits and providing a six-to-one match for the first $250 of contributions up to a maximum of $100 million for the primaries and $200 million for the general. Every version of this bill has died in committee.

Public funding for Senate elections is the goal of another bill, the Fair Elections Now Act, which Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has been introducing in every Congress since 2007. His bill would impose a tax on payments made to corporations with government contracts and offer donors a refundable tax credit of up to $50. Every version of this bill has died in committee. The prospects for reviving presidential public funding in the near future are the same as they have been for at least a decade: approximately zero.

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