You know that voluntary check-off box on your federal income-tax form for contributing to presidential campaigns? Who do you think is collecting all that money? President Clinton, maybe? Or Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., and the other GOP contenders for the nation's highest office?
As a matter of fact, many legitimate presidential contenders have collected "presidential matching funds" this year. But so has a candidate whose platform includes a provision to colonize Mars.
Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., who was released from prison two years ago after duping his supporters out of $34 million for a 1988 presidential bid, is among the many candidates who have applied for matching funds to finance his latest campaign.
LaRouche began his perennial bids for the presidency when public money became available 20 years ago. In fact, a Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision to deny LaRouche public funds in 1992 -- when he was running his presidential campaign out of prison -- was overturned in court last year, granting him $568,534 in taxpayer dollars.
With such lavish funding, he is able to promote his paranoid suspicions, for example, that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has spied for the Russians, and that Queen Elizabeth II is involved in the international drug trade.
Since 1976 millions of Americans have designated some of their tax dollars to fund presidential campaigns, unaware that this setup allows people like LaRouche to tap into the public trust fund. The money becomes available to "qualified" candidates through the FEC.
But since the FEC is a government body, it is not allowed to make political judgments. And since the public funds are not guided by taxpayers' philosophical commitments to particular candidates, tax dollars inevitably wind up going to political extremists attracted by government subsidies.
For example, last November LaRouche submitted a request for matching funds to the tune of $261,235, outpacing legitimate presidential contenders Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, ($240,524), Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ($157,553), Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., ($71,039), former Tennessee Governor and Education Secretary Lamar Alexander ($205,471) and California Governor Pete Wilson, ($71,571), who subsequently dropped out of the race.
There's more. Take the case of Lenora Fulani, the New York City psychologist who inexplicably calls herself a "major-minor" candidate. Calling for free medicine, free housing, and free education, this perennial leftist candidate has never explained how she would pay for these services. But she's found a convenient way to pay for her campaigns: the taxpayer. From 1984 to 1992, she received $3.5 million in taxpayer funds, even though her support never has reached 1 percent. She is expected to run in 1996 as well. Given her history, she will be certified to receive matching funds once again.
One would think Congress would be working to change the situation. Yet, a bipartisan campaign-finance measure currently making its way through the Senate (with a companion bill being drafted in the House) does not deal with public financing.
Fewer and fewer Americans are checking the matching-funds box. While 28.7 percent of taxpayers designated $1 to campaigns in 1980, only 14.5 percent checked the box in 1993. In fact, participation has fallen off so dramatically that Congress increased the check-off to $3. By trebling the check-off in 1993, receipts rose by $43.7 million despite participation being halved.
The public no longer supports taxpayer-subsidized political campaigns. While public financing supporters say it will help tomorrow's Lincoln shoot for the moon, in reality it is helping today's LaRouche reach for Mars.