Campaign Trail

Presidential candidates likely to pass on public money

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Apr 13, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Picked up my taxes from my accountant this morning, checked that little box that says yes, I want $3 to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund — even though I do know it won’t lower my taxes at all.

But here’s the thing. Ain’t nobody gonna use that money this time ’round. Every candidate from Watergate up to but not including then-Senator Obama in 2008 did. But now, nobody wants the limits on spendiing that come with it.

Don’tcha wonder, though, what a 2012 campaign with public funding might look like? Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: If the presidential candidates took the public campaign money, they would each get about $90 million from Uncle Sam. That’s all they could spend.

Bob Biersack is a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics.

Bob Biersack: $90 million now works out to be something like $10 million a week. That’s a fair amount of money.

Still, compared to the nearly $750 million President Obama raised in 2008, that’s chump change. So our publically financed candidates would ask their respective parties to take over polling and get-out-the-vote work.

As for campaign advertising…

Paul Light: Enter the super PACs.

That’s N.Y.U. Public Service Professor Paul Light. He says, ironically,  candidates taking public money would rely more than ever on super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited money. Presidential candidates can’t coordinate with their super PAC backers. But Light says the super PACs could join forces.

Light: They may sit around the table and say, OK you do the negative campaign in Ohio; you do the glossy, happy advertising.

The candidates would scrounge for freebies, like  volunteers. Nick Nyhart heads the advocacy group Public Campaign. He says the candidates couldn’t afford to raise a big enough volunteer army.

Nick Nyhart: I just don’t think their shoulders would be enough to carry you on to victory.

So the candidates would have to shell out some money to travel and maybe run a few of their own  ads. But it would be a short campaign. Paul Light estimates they’d burn through their $90 million in a week or two.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

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