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Cole Calls for End to Taxpayer Funding for Presidential Candidates

December 2, 2011
Speech

The legislation before us actually does three important things. First, it eliminates an antiquated, outdated system of public financing. Second, it terminates an obsolete commission, and finally, and not incidentally, it actually saves money -- something we talk a lot about around here but seldom actually do. When the Presidential Election Campaign fund was actually created in 1973, it was during a time before things like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Widespread use of the internet did not exist. That's no longer the case today. Today, it's pretty easy to contribute money to a presidential candidate if you want to do it. I would advise anybody, regardless of their political persuasion, to simply type the name of the candidate that they like into the internet and wait and see what pops up. They'll have an immediate opportunity to donate to that individual. There's no need to take public money at a time when we're running trillion and a half dollar deficits and divert it to what is essentially political welfare for candidates -- an absolute waste of money.

It's so much a waste that our president, who defends the system but chose not to participate in the system -- in 2008, he did not participate, did not raise money this way, did not do it during the public campaign -- actually broke precedent and frankly, a commitment he made earlier in the campaign and chose not to do it. That's fine. That was his right. He was certainly more than adequately funded. His opponent, Senator Clinton, now Secretary Clinton, was also adequately funded. She did not use the public financing system. The one person who did, John McCain, was heavily outspent, although I don't think that had much to do with his defeat.

I think, honestly, Americans know how to contribute to presidential candidates. They don't need the federal government letting them check off a portion of their taxes and divert it for that purpose. Public participation in the system has declined radically. It's never reached even a third
of American taxpayers willing to do this, peaked at 28%, and in 2009 was down to 7% of American taxpayers that chose to do it. We're not denying anybody the ability to participate. We are giving very expensive welfare to presidential candidates and to political parties at a cost to the taxpayer when that cost can't be afforded.

Two weeks ago, we had something that occurred that honestly ought to concern everybody on this floor. I don't fault either party for it, but the Democratic Party and Republican Party both received $17 million for their conventions from the federal treasury of the United States. $17 million to two political parties, $34 million in total to run their conventions.
Who really believes that's a needed expenditure? Each of those party -- and I can tell you because I used to be a chief of staff for one of them -- will spend over $100 million on their conventions. They don't require federal help. It's a waste of time and money.

As for the Election Assistance Commission -- and I said that as a former secretary of state -- this is a commission whose time has come and gone. It currently spends over 50% of its budget on administration, not on direct assistance to the states. Ad the idea that state governments and stays who have been running elections for 200 years suddenly need the federal government to tell them how to do it and spend this kind of money is absurd. Frankly, the National Association of Secretaries of State, which is the oldest public association of elected officials and appointed officials in the United States, has twice called for the elimination of this. They don't feel the need for it. They certainly don't see that they're getting any assistance from it. Whatever good it did in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 election, I think is now concluded.

Without putting too fine a point on it, this is a system and this is a commission who simply exist to solve problems that aren't problems. We have no problem funding presidential campaigns in the United States. There's plenty of money, probably too much money, around. There doesn't need to be taxpayer money. Nor do political parties have a problem funding their conventions -- they can do it themselves. Nor do we need a commission whose purpose has now passed into history. Let's just finally prove we can get rid of outmoded programs, end the expenditures and actually save the taxpayer some money. In doing so, I can assure everybody on the floor that our democracy will remain healthy, our elections will be fair, and the American people in their wisdom will figure out which candidate to contribute to if they choose to contribute to any candidate at all.