The tax reform plan the president submitted to Congress would eliminate the $1 checkoff for public financing of presidential campaigns. Simply put, this could return us to the days when presidential candidates were tempted to adopt the positions necessary to please their large financial contributors. I like to believe that today, mostly because of public campaign financing laws, a president enters office free to follow the dictates of his conscience, equally committed to the interests of all voters, specially committed to none.
I was the sponsor of legislation in 1966 in which Congress, for the first time, endorsed the concept of public financing of presidential campaigns. I was prompted by the belief that, more than any public official, the president of the United States should represent all the people. That kind of legislation was needed then and is even more important now as presidential campaigns seem to have a never-ending thirst for money.
The pressure to raise larger and larger sums of money continues to increase, as do the ranks of political action committees and the number of selfish persons ready to contribute money to their friends seeking the presidency in hopes of special advantages. In 1974, there were only 608 registered PACs. As of last December, there were 4,009. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled that PAC contributions to presidential candidates cannot be limited, the pressure is bound to increase even more by the next campaign.
Although a presidential candidate may forego public funds and raise campaign money from other sources, the public financing is so attractive that even President Reagan has accepted more of that money than any candidate in history. And I am thankful that he has. Can you imagine the pressures on a candidate who had to raise $60 million from individuals and political action committees in order to run a respectable campaign for the presidency?
Passage of the check-off legislation was held up by a Republican administration and Republican legislators until the Watergate scandal demonstrated that there must be a better way to control the corrupting effect of special interest money. Since that date, we have been free of the kinds of revelations and disclosures that undermined public confidence in our elective process.
The $1 checkoff doesn't increase a citizen's tax payment by one cent. He is simply telling the government that he wants $1 in public money, not special interest money, to help finance the campaigns of those running for president. The millions of Americans who check that box on their tax returns each year are helping to ensure that our presidents owe their allegiance to all Americans, equally.
While searching for a simpler, less complicatd tax form is a noble cause, and a goal I wholeheartedly support, I must say that in this case the president may be risking one of the most important aspects of the American presidency, its integrity. This dollar is a very small cost to government to ensure that a president can serve his term, fulfilling only the promises he has made to the American people.
Furthermore, the decision whether to check "yes" or "no" in answer to a simple question can hardly confuse a taxpayer once he has made the decision for the first time. After that, it is merely a matter of confirming his opinion.
To put the question as I see it: What is wrong about offering a taxpayer the chance to vote, on his tax return, for honest, good government and against greed and special advantage for the few?