Traditionally, tax payers every year have been confronted by that little box on the tax form, giving them the option to donate part of their refund to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. But it could soon turn out that that practice will go the way of the dodo.
Estimates have it that the race for the 2008 White House could carry a $500 million price tag, which is far more than the Presidential Election Campaign Fund can hold. Because of this, Democratic and Republican nominees could decline to use the fund in both the primary and the general elections. Pundits have identified the Presidential Election Campaign Fund as being broken, having not kept up with inflation, and that it also fails to take into account the greater number of media streams available to campaign through. When they say that, they mean "the Internet", which is having the greatest effect on the voter's decision process this year more then any other previous year.
George W. Bush turned the money down in both his 2000 and 2004 GOP primaries. Both Howard Dean and John Kerry followed suit in 2004.
Also called the "checkoff fund" because it appears as a check box on the tax forms, the program, which is administered by the Federal Elections Commission, was created in response to the Watergate scandal in order to reign in the campaign financing activity of Presidential candidates. It reduces a candidate's dependence on large contributions from such donating parties as special-interest groups. To accept the fund requires that a candidate agree to an overall spending limit and to abide by spending limits in each state. They must also be subject to a campaign audit.
The fund is only expected to have about $200 million in it by the beginning of 2008. It is divided equally between all candidates, which means that even some of the lowest-funded candidates in the race will be constrained to a paltry sum compared to what they can easily collect on their own. The trend lately has been to start fund-raising earlier every year; the candidates have already gotten a sizable bankroll going by 2007. In addition, many of the candidates already hold public office, and are free to use their left-over money from their previous candidacy for their current election run.
In the race, Senator and candidate John McCain, Senator Russ Feingold, and Representatives Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan have all made strong cases for campaign finance reform. McCain has spear-headed the matter on the front of the checkoff fund, having turned down the money for his 2008 bid, but also having taken action in favor of overhauling it.
If the overhaul were to go through, it would triple the amount available to candidates during state primaries. It would also eliminate the state spending limits, which is a chief pinch point. It would also offer more money to candidates when other candidates had already turned it down, which seems to be a great playing-field leveler.
It should be pointed out that McCain is being a good sport about this, since he is currently the third or fourth highest earner of campaign funds. The fact that he would allow money which he had turned down to go to his potential competitor, sans spending limit, shows the remarkable confidence befitting a military hero.