Just as it voted to repeal healthcare reform without first holding hearings, the new Republican majority in the House is rushing to repeal the system of public financing of presidential campaigns. The vote, scheduled for Wednesday, is designed to show that Republicans are serious about cutting government spending. Public financing does deserve another legislative look 35 years after it was first used to diminish candidates' reliance on large donors and special-interest groups, but it shouldn't be the victim of a stampede.
Currently, presidential candidates are eligible for public funds to pay for their campaigns in exchange for an agreement to abide by spending limits. As several campaign reform groups pointed out in a letter to members of the House, every Republican presidential nominee from 1976 to 2008 used the public financing system to fund his general election campaign, as did every Democratic nominee except Barack Obama.
They also argued that public financing has served to increase the number of viable candidates and to promote competition. They cited the example of Ronald Reagan, who "was able to capitalize on his small-donor fundraising capacity to accrue substantial sums of public money." Reagan wasn't the only candidate to leverage private contributions to obtain public funding — and visibility.