Congressional Bills for Public Funding Do Not Discriminate on Basis of Partisan Affiliation

The long-awaited bills in Congress for public funding of Congressional candidates have been introduced. In the House, the bill is HR1826, sponsored by John B. Larson (D-Ct.) and 12 co-sponsors so far. In the Senate it is S752. Unlike past bills on this subject in Congress, the bills treats all candidates alike, regardless of party or independent status. However, write-in candidates may not qualify. House candidates qualify for public funding by raising at least 1,500 contributions from their district. The total raised privately must equal at least $50,000. Contributions between $5 and $100 count for this purpose. Thanks to IndependentPoliticalReport for news of the bills.


Congressional Bills for Public Funding Do Not Discriminate on Basis of Partisan Affiliation — No Comments

  1. The text does not mention anything discriminatory but the fact that parties are treated different as far as ballot access and getting into debates (which is a qualification for getting funding) makes it discriminatory.

  2. It has an odd (or very early) qualifying period.

    The qualifying period for the small contributions is from 180 days before the primary, until 60 days before the primary. So for example, in Illinois, starting in August of this year a candidate would file paperwork with the feds that you would be seeking a congressional term beginning in January 2011. Small contributions up through early December would count.

    This period appears to be in effect regardless whether the candidate qualifies via a primary or some other means, and when the period for qualification for the general election ballot is. So there is actually a subtle discrimination against minor party and independent candidates.

    Note: contributions are from the State – not the district. In large States, a contributor could simply split his contribution up among several candidates in different districts.

    Though $5 contributions count towards the 1500 contributions, they will leave you far short of the $50,000 (eg 10,000 $5 contributions). So it be more likely to go for (300 x $100, 200 x $50, and 1000 x $10)

    There is a debate requirement for two public debates prior to the general election, for all candidates participating in the fund, plus “other willing candidates”. Presumably a declared write-in candidate would be a candidates, and a willing candidate if he sought entry into the debate.

  3. Richard:
    Should a candidate qualify for this ‘public financing’
    how much money and when will it become available to
    the candidate? Also, is this a total or will there be
    separate amounts for a primary and general election?

  4. There are separate amounts for a primary, primary runoff, general, and general runoff. If I read the bill correctly, unspent money from a primary may be carried forward to the general election. In cases of uncontested elections, the payment amount is less (“uncontested” is defined based on spending by other candidates, so if another person merely filed for a primary election it would not necessarily be a contested election).

    Payment for primaries would occur when the candidate qualifies (which has to be at least 60 days before the primary). Payment for the general election would occur when the candidate qualifies for the ballot (eg after the primary results are certified or when a candidate otherwise qualified, such as by petition).

    Candidates would be restricted to contributions of $100 or less. This restriction applies to personal funds or contributions from family members.

    The base amount would be 80% of the expenditures of winning candidates nationally (in the previous cycle).

    In addition, there would be the possibility of a 4:1 match for small dollar contribution ($100 or less) beyond the $50,000 needed to qualify for the initial amount.

    And there would also be a $100,000 voucher for broadcast expenditures.

  5. A few more notes. (A few? . . .)

    * WHO GETS TO SAY SO?: The “Fair Elections Oversight Board” which would review the system after every general election, and consider such things as whether the balance between number and size of qualifying contributions is right, would be appointed by the President after — any guesses? Two after consultation with the House Majority Leader, two after consultation with the House Minority Leader, and one on the recommendation of those other four.

    * TIMING OF FUNDING: A participating candidate, within 48 hours of qualifying to become one, is supposed to get 40% of the base amount (= 80% of the average expenditure by winning candidates in the previous two election cycles) for the primary race. The other 60% comes for the general election, and goes to a qualifying candidate within 48 hours after the primary is certified. (Or, “in any case in which there is no primary election, the date the candidate qualifies to be placed on the ballot” — which might be held to apply to candidates of parties not allowed into primaries. And since the existing parts of the FEC Act define election to include “a convention or caucus of a political party which has authority to nominate a candidate”, primary-banned parties may be okay here.) BTW, the same 48-hour response time applies to additional allocations of 25% of the base amount if there is a runoff in either the primary or the general election.

    * LESS MONEY?: The allocation for any election is cut 75% (i.e., down to 1/4 of what it would be) if the election is “uncontested”. And the bill defines “uncontested” — saying it happens when “not more than 1 candidate has campaign funds (including payments from the Fund) in an amount equal to or greater than 10 percent of the allocation a candidate would be entitled to receive under this section for that election (determined without regard to this paragraph).”

    * DEBATES: The “Debate Requirement” is not a direct requirement that debates actually be held, as far as I can see. Rather, it’s written to require candidates to participate in debates in order to qualify to get matching funds. (Does that mean the candidates would have to hold the debates? The most I can find about that is that one task of the FEOC is to ” prescribe regulations to carry out the purposes of this title, including regulations . . . regarding the conduct of debates in a manner consistent with the best practices of States that provide public financing for elections.”)

    * MORE ON DEBATES: About those debates . . . as Jim says (in #2 above), the relevant section of the text talks of requiring a candidate to participate in at least “2 public debates before the general election with other participating candidates and other willing candidates seeking the same office as such candidate”
    to qualify as participating in the program. But remember that the FEC Act doesn’t consider someone a candidate until/unless they’ve raised or spent at least $5,000. So this may *not* be as inclusive as it sounds. Also, the same section of the new bill also requires participation in “1 public debate before the primary election with other participating candidates and other willing candidates from the same party and seeking the same nomination as such candidate”. Does this mean that each party has its own debates — or that whoever holds the debates is supposed/required to segregate parties? (Or do folks here think it’s better if each party gets its own?)

    More thoughts as analysis continues. . . . and as the text for S 752 appears so we can see what if any differences there are. (I can guess at one, anyway; the Senate might not like being shut out of consultations on the FEOC members. Though they’d probably get to vote on them anyway. . . .)


  6. Having $50,000 as a threshold of private funds raised before public funds kick in is discriminatory in and of itself. It is a way to make sure that money stays with the money, and the status quo gets to feed off the system, but not let new or poor folks (or even beginners) participate.

    Women in our country still earn less on average than men. So, when high amounts of money are required to start up the matching funds, you are making it more difficult for candidates SUPPORTED by women to get to the requirement. And, since women often support women, that would tend to make it harder on a woman candidate.

    Also, thinking of each donor wishing to give to a campaign that would then get matching funds: You have to have a certain amount of expendable cash to consider a political donation. And, the poorer you are, the less amount you can give. So, having the $50,000 criteria makes it harder for candidates who want to run with the support (ie: and an agenda) for the poor and working class.

    Of nearly all the candidates I donated to or worked on the campaign staff of in the last several years, probably only 3 out of many dozens raised $50,000.

    So, there is an inherent injustice.

  7. Re: #7 — a good point.

    I dunno if we have much chance for a bill with *no* threshold. But maybe we can at least agitate to have it set at the same level as the FEC Act’s current $5,000 threshold for meeting the definition of a candidate? . . .

  8. #5 I think the timing of payments under Sec 522, ties the condition of “no primary” to the candidate. And in Texas, for example, 3rd party and independent candidates can’t qualify for the general election ballot until after the primaries.

    But I would expect that the qualification period to end 60 days before the primary, regardless of the manner of qualification. The 1500 contributions requirement may be a higher barrier than the $50,000 requirement, especially since it must be done so early.

    Major parties in larger States could organize contribution parties where party members might contribute $10 to 5 candidates. They direct the big contributions to hotly contested races, and the small dollar amounts to races where there is no challenger, or they simply want to make a credible challenge against an incumbent. So a wealthier donor could give a couple of $2300 contributions, and then $100 to several others.

    But they might well cut out intra-party challengers, unless they were interested in gaming the rules on uncontested elections. And they could do that easier under the 10% rule.

    “Public debate” is undefined. Presumably the debate sponsor would have to invite all candidates in order for it to count as a debate for a “participating” candidate – otherwise there would be no way to determine if any other candidates were “willing” to participate.

    But a TV station could choose to invite anyone it chose to a debate it sponsored. Or they could choose to not sponsor a debate at all. So you could have lots of smaller groups sponsoring public debates, perhaps not even broadcast. A qualifying candidate would have to pick at least two.

    The federal government could regulate the manner in which representatives are elected, but they haven’t beyond requiring election by district. Can they impose a “candidate” qualification of $5000 spending, that potentially separates candidates that a State recognizes into two different classes? And isn’t a contribution/spending threshold equivalent to a poll tax?

    I think the $5000 is for contribution reporting only.

  9. Re: #9 — I don’t think the FEC Act distinguishes between contribution reporting and other activities in defining a candidate.

    Here — from the FEC’s Website at

    is the language from Section 431 — the only “Definitions” section in the current FEC Act. (And, since I’m there already and we have talked a bit about that term too, I’ll throw in the FEC Act’s definition of “election”, too.)

    [============== start definitions ==============]
    Chapter 14 — Federal Election Campaigns

    Subchapter 1 — Disclosure of Federal
    Campaign Funds

    § 431. Definitions

    When used in this Act:

    (1) The term “election” means —
    (A) a general, special, primary, or runoff
    (B) a convention or caucus of a political party
    which has authority to nominate a candidate;
    (C) a primary election held for the selection
    of delegates to a national nominating convention
    of a political party; and
    (D) a primary election held for the expression
    of a preference for the nomination of individuals
    for election to the office of President.

    (2) The term “candidate” means an individual
    who seeks nomination for election, or election,
    to Federal office, and for purposes of this
    paragraph, an individual shall be deemed to
    seek nomination for election, or election —
    (A) if such individual has received contributions
    aggregating in excess of $5,000 or has made
    expenditures aggregating in excess of $5,000; or
    (B) if such individual has given his or her consent
    to another person to receive contributions or
    make expenditures on behalf of such individual
    and if such person has received such contributions
    aggregating in excess of $5,000 or has made such
    expenditures aggregating in excess of $5,000.
    [==============_ end definitions _==============]

    So it looks to me as though the $5,000 figure is to be used whenever FEC decides whether or not to view someone as a candidate. . . .

  10. Actually, maybe we could use that $5,000 figure to argue against “all-or-nothing” public financing. . . .

    We could suggest that anyone meeting that definition of “candidate” already in the Act, with qualifying contributions ($5-$100 from individual residents of the state), should qualify for at least some public funding.

    Dunno whether we’d do better arguing for

    * a stepped process (once you get that $5,000 you qualify for 1/4 of the main amounts); or

    * a proportional share (if you’ve only raised $5,000 so far you only get 1/10 of the main amount, but once you report raising $10,000 more that way you get another 20% of the main amount and so on).

    I can see whether third-party candidates would *do* better under one system or another. What I’m unsure about is which way it’s best for us to shape our proposal so it finds a place in the discussion — and an actual bill/law. . . .

    Any other thoughts?

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