Public funding of presidential elections means that qualified presidential candidates receive federal government funds to pay for the valid expenses of their political campaigns in both the primary and general elections.
To qualify for public funding, presidential candidates must first meet various eligibility requirements, such as agreeing to limit campaign spending to a specified amount. Once the Federal Election Commission determines that eligibility requirements have been met, it certifies the amount of public funds to which the candidate is entitled. The U.S. Treasury then makes the payments from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
Opting not to participate in public funding
A candidate may choose not to participate in the public funding program. If he or she accepts public funds for a presidential campaign, the candidate is bound by expenditure limits. Presidential candidates who choose not to participate in the public funding program may raise private contributions subject to the limits and source prohibitions of federal campaign finance law; these candidates are not bound by expenditure limits.
How the public funding program is funded
This Presidential Election Campaign Fund consists of dollars volunteered by taxpayers, who indicate on their federal income tax returns that they want $3 of taxpayer money to go to the Fund. The checkoff neither increases the amount of taxes owed nor decreases any refund due for the tax year in which the checkoff is made.
Checkoff dollar shortages
The law requires that priority be given to general election nominees and then to primary election candidates. If there were insufficient funds for the primary election candidates, the Secretary of the Treasury would provide only partial matching funds.
Unused checkoff dollars
Any unused Checkoff dollars remain in the Presidential Fund account and carry over to the next presidential election.
FEC monitoring of campaign funds used by publicly-funded candidates
At the end of every presidential election, the FEC audits the committees that receive public funds. Any unused funds or funds that were not spent for campaign purposes must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.