According to a $25,000 study by the Federal Election Commission, the average taxpayer not only refuses to earmark $1 of his taxes to the presidential election fund, but is very skeptical of politicians and of campaign spending generally.
Given public disenchantment, the refusal to check off money for election campaigns is hardly surprising. And it contains a lesson for those who want to expand federal subsidies to other kinds of election campaigns.The presidential fund gets its money from the $1 checkoff on every federal income tax return; couples filing jointly may specify $2. The money is used to provide matching funds to eligible candidates in presidential primaries, to help finance nominating conventions and to pay for the general election campaigns.
Although earmarking the money does not affect one's overall tax bill, only 20 percent of taxpayers check the box. This is very discouraging to advocates of public financing for congressional elections.
The FEC believes that most taxpayers either don't understand the fund or don't know it exists, and so they have launched a $92,000 public awareness campaign. Yet there is such an escalating public distrust of politicians that it is unlikely that the FEC can win many converts, even among people who support the concept of public financing.
Many voters perceive politicians as being wasteful with money, and they are angry about it.
The upshot is that if donations continue at current levels and expenses increase as anticipated, the fund could face a $6 million deficit by the end of 1992 and perhaps even be without money early in the year to provide the matching funds to primary candidates.
This is ridiculous. Since when does a fund that is dependent on the decision of voters to check a box go into deficit financing? Regardless of the ignorance that may keep voters from specifying money for the presidential fund, if they do not donate to the fund, there is no fund.
Under no circumstances should the federal government allow the presidential fund to generate red ink.