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Effect of House GOP's anti-campaign-financing bill would be felt by Republicans

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.

"For the major candidates, the best-known candidates, the system is irrelevant at this point," he said. "The ones who are relying on it now are the more marginal candidates. . . . The question is whether the Republican leadership is happy not to finance those people."

Despite Obama's track record, the White House this week came out against the idea of eliminating public financing, arguing that the program needs to be "fixed rather than dismantled." Democrats say that doing away with the system would only exacerbate the effects of a Supreme Court decision last year to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections.

"This is not the time to further empower the special interests or to obstruct the work of reform," the White House statement said.

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who helped create the public financing system, said Republicans are "attacking a broken system that needs to be repaired, not repealed."

"This is not about budget-cutting; this is about trying to kill the idea of public financing for federal elections," he said. "They're just turning the presidency and the political system over to big donors, bundlers and corporate spenders."

But Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC chairman who opposes many campaign finance restrictions, said public financing "is a hobbyhorse for white, upscale liberals" that has done nothing to lessen corruption or the role of money in politics.

"The fact that you offer people free money and they take it doesn't mean that the program is a success," Smith said. "The government should not be taking your tax money and my tax money to fund political candidates."

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