Buoyed by new support in powerful places, a bipartisan House group opened a drive yesterday for partial public financing of congressional election campaigns.
President Carter is on record in favor of the principle, unlike his predecessor, Gerald R. Ford, who had promised to veto such a bill. Vice President Mondale was a strong supporter of the concept, as a senator. The chairman of the House committee in charge, Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), is an outspoken supporter and plans action late this spring, unlike his predecessor, former Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), who was a fierce opponent and effective roadblock.
Yesterday, House Speaker Thomas P.O'Neill, who has proven an effective force in the House this year, switched from opposition to support of some type of public financing legislation. He said it was a way to stop unknowing candidates from turning up on lists of illegal corporate contributions - as he has. O'Neill said he didn't think the public was ready for total public funding of congressional campaigns but that some plan on matching public and private financing would win public support.
The Senate has voted for public financing of congressional campaigns in the past. The house never has.
"This is the year," said Fred Wertheimer, vice president of Common Cause.
A bill for partial voluntary public financing of House and Senate general election (not primary) campaigns was introfuced in the House yesterday with 110 cosponsors. A public financing bill was previously "introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support.
Leaders of the House drive, as before, are Reps. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), and John B. Anderson (R.Ill.).
Their bill provides that when a House candidate in a general election has raised $10,000 in private donations of $100 or less, he would become eligible for public aid from the $1 federal income tax check-off fund. He could receive $1 for each $1 raised in small private donations to a total of $50,000 in public assistance.
Candidates who decide to accept public assistance would be limited to total campaign spending of $150,000. Personal spending by House candidates would be limited to $25,000. If an opponent who did not accept public assistance exceeded the $150,000 spending limit, the publicly financed candidate would be freed from the spending ceiling.
A bill providing partial public financing in both primary and general elections for Senate candidates was introduced there last week. For candidated that take part, it provides a primary election spending ceiling of $225,000 or 15 cents per eligible voter in the state, and $300,000 or 20 cents per voter in the general election. Candidates could receive 25 per cent of their limit in public funds, the rest in private donations of less than $100.
The first experience with public financing of federal election campaigns was last year's presidential race. Part of the primary campaign costs and all the general election campaign expenses were paid from the funs voluntarily created by taxpayers.
Burton said yesterday chances of passage of the congressional public financing bill have been greatly improved by last year's experience, which he said showed that public financing works and by the appearance fo friendly faces in key positions such as Carter and Thompson.
Anderson said special interest money, barred from the presidential race, was thrown into congressional races in twice the amounts of the previous election. Udall said Carter was the first President to enter the White House without carrying the "heavy baggage" of big contributions, and that members of Congress should now be relieved of that burden.
Hose Minority Leader John J. rhodes (R-Ariz.) oppose public financing of House races. He said he doesn't think a single spending ceiling can be fairly applied to all congressional districts.