Fundraising reform needed

Our view: Publicly financed campaigns must be made competitive

May 27, 2008

By November, when the next president is elected, the two major candidates are likely to have spent more than $1 billion trying to convince us they are the right person for the job. The scale of private fundraising needed to support the lengthy and sophisticated campaigns required to win invites growing public skepticism about the obligations and agenda of the victor, regardless of his or her party affiliation. For that reason, the aging rules governing campaign spending should be reshaped to make public funding a more attractive alternative.

Sen. Barack Obama has been tremendously successful this year with a Web-based fundraising effort that has allowed him to collect more than a quarter of a billion dollars, largely from a host of small donors, through April, with the promise of much more to come. By comparison, Sen. John McCain has raised less than $100 million. The diverse sources of funding tapped by Senator Obama on the World Wide Web show that it is possible for candidates to avoid having to rely principally on special interests, and that's a good thing. But public funding is a better alternative because it allows anyone who is qualified to be considered for the presidency - not just those able to accumulate a huge private war chest.

Legislation proposed in Congress last December with Senator Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton as co-sponsors shows the way to make public funding a more appealing choice. The bill, endorsed by the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and a host of other reform organizations, would, beginning in 2012, significantly increase the amounts of public matching funds available to candidates, eliminate state limits on spending and offer extra financial help to publicly funded candidates facing privately funded opponents.

A system like that would keep the focus on the candidates instead of the private interests who might otherwise direct, finance and influence their campaigns. It's time to stop worrying about who may be buying our president.

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