Media Could Get Millions More Ad Dollars

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A watchdog group is pushing for changes that would increase the amount of public money available to purchase TV campaign ads during presidential primaries by $25 million per candidate.

To encourage candidates of modest wealth to run for the White House, a campaign finance watchdog group says the government should increase the amount of federal matching funds available to people running in presidential primaries.

Analyzing the reasons President Bush and Democrats John Kerry and Howard Dean opted out of the public financing for the 2004 primary campaigns, a task force commissioned by the Campaign Finance Institute said in a report Friday that public funding limits should be raised to match levels for the general election.

Greater public support for primaries is necessary, the report concluded, because of competitiveness and the rising expense of party primaries. "Without a sound system, future campaigns could well be limited to front-runners and rich people," the institute said in a statement announcing the report.

Specifically, the task force urged raising the primary spending limit per candidate from $50 million to $75 million, the same as general elections. The public amount of matching funds should be capped at $20 million per candidate.

To prevent non-participants from greatly outspending rivals, participants in public financing should be allowed an "escape hatch" permitting them to spend as much as their highest spending nonparticipating primary opponent.

Other suggestions include increasing the 1-for-1 public-to-private match with a 3-for-1 match. If each $100 donor is worth $400 total to candidates, donors will "feel their participation will make a difference," the institute said. The group also wants the voluntary tax return check-off for contributions to the public fund raised from $3 to $5 per individual.

The Campaign Finance Institute has is a big supporter of Sens. John McCain and Russell Feingold's 2002 campaign spending reform law. Several of the group's suggestions were included in the legislation.

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