Government Bytes


Campaign Finance Reform

by Michael Tasselmyer / /

As the 2012 election cycle comes to a close, we've witnessed record amounts of cash flowing in and out of political campaigns. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have each raised over $1 billion, and recent figures show Romney has spent $777 million on campaign efforts, while Obama has spent over $887 million. It's been a record-breaking year for spending in Congressional races across the country as well.

Some lawmakers have proposed reforming the campaign system through public financing. NTUF identified two specific bills, introduced in the 112th Congress, that give taxpayers an indication of how those types of reforms might affect the budget.

Congressional Races

H.R. 1404, the Fair Elections Now Act (and the Senate version, S. 750), would provide for public funding of congressional races. In order to qualify for that funding, candidates would have to raise a "large number of small contributions", limited to $100 each.

  • Candidates running for the House of Representatives would need to raise $50,000 from 1,500 supporters in their state.
  • Those running for the Senate would need to raise 10% of the Fair Elections primary funding amount, and obtain a set number of contributions based on the population of their state: 2,000 plus 500 times the number of congressional districts in their state. For example, since Ohio has 18 congressional districts, a Senate candidate from that state would need 2,000 donations plus 500 for each district- a total of 11,000 donations.

Part of the funding would include "media vouchers" to help offset the cost of running mass media advertisements, and would apply to primary & general election campaigns.

According to the Fair Elections Act website, "[t]he cost of Fair Elections for Senate races would be borne by a small fee on large government contractors and for House races would come from ten percent of revenues generated through the auction of unused broadcast spectrum." The bill's sponsors estimate the cost at "somewhere between $700 and $850 million per year."

Presidential Races

For public funding of presidential campaigns, NTUF found S. 3312, the Presidential Funding Act. The bill would eliminate public funding for national party conventions - which amounts to millions of dollars - and increase public funding available for presidential campaign runs. According to the Congressional Record, similar legislation introduced in the 111th Congress - S. 3681 - carried an estimated cost of $1.1 billion over four years.

Important to note is that S. 3681 included a budgetary offset that would render the bill budget neutral; S. 3312 does not include any such offsets, which would result in new spending.


Combined, these two bills would amount to an annualized cost of $1.125 billion - a first year cost of $850 million, and $1.1 billion over 4 years.

NTUF found that Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, running in Massachusetts, would support public financing reforms for federal elections. You can read the full analysis and compare her agenda to rival Scott Brown's here.

NTUF does not endorse any candidate or position.