It’s become quite common for checkout kiosks at stores to include a prompt asking you to give a couple bucks to a charity that helps support the needy or fight cancer.
Long before these kiosks existed, the U.S. government pioneered the check-out solicitation. The OG’s charity of choice: politicians aspiring to be Presidents.
Every year since 1974, taxpayers have had the option to check a box on their tax return to donate a small amount to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
If you’re like most Americans, you don’t check the box and move on to figuring out how much you owe or will receive in a refund (or more likely have TurboTax tell you).
Last year, less than 4 percent of taxpayers checked the donation box – down from 28 percent forty years ago. Even so, the fund has raised $1.9 billion over its lifespan and currently still has $356 million sitting in its account.
Here’s the catch.
The funds have not been used to support a winning candidate in 16 years. Lately, the funds are hardly being used at all.
President Obama started this trend in 2008 when he became the first major candidate to turn down public funding during the general election. In 2012, $1.3 million public funds were drawn upon by three different 3rd party candidates – but not by the major candidates. In 2016, only Martin O’Malley and Jill Stein accepted the public funding (about $1 million and $500,000 respectively).
And in 2020, there has not been a single candidate to apply for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
The lack of interest is due to the spending restrictions that accepting the public dollar’s place on major campaigns. The ease of private financing makes the restrictions that come with the public funding route prohibitive to a successful campaign.
So what began as an attempt to limit the influence of big donors has transformed into a way to prop up fringe candidates.
Supporters and opponents of public campaign financing alike agree that the Presidential Election Campaign Fund is defunct.
But what about the $356 million still idling in the pot?
This week, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the Eliminating Leftover Expenses for Campaigns from Taxpayers (ELECT) Act of 2020, which would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and direct the $356 million towards deficit reduction. Sen. Ernst admits the $356 million is just a scratch in the behemoth national debt. But she posits that if Congress can’t accept millions in savings, how can they get to trillions?
This would not be the first time that money from the campaign fund would be curtailed. In 2014, Congress passed a bill that eliminated the public financing of political conventions. The Republican and Democratic National Conventions used to tap the fund for more than $15 million each to support their quadrennial nominating celebration. The savings from the 2014 bill were directed towards pediatric research.
That was a step in the right direction. But now it’s time to shut down the whole thing.
Senator Ernst is asking her colleagues to check the box if you would like to end welfare for politicians.
We hope they check yes.