Where Does Obama’s Public Finance Money Go?

Now that Barack Obama has opted out of public financing for the general, it means John McCain is the only one taking cash from the public coffers. So if you checked off the $3 donation box on your tax returns—the source of national public campaign financing—your money is going to McCain and McCain alone. What happens to the cash Obama would have gotten?

It stays in the coffers. The Treasury maintains a Presidential Election Campaign Fund that rolls over from year to year. When you select the $3 check-off option on your annual tax returns, it goes directly into the fund, which gets allocated to primary candidates, general candidates, and the party nominating conventions. The amount each candidate receives in public funds depends on the amount raised. This year, each general-election candidate is eligible to receive $84.1 million in public funds.

So how much money is left over now that Obama is out? The fund’s balance at the end of May was $192.6 million, according to FEC spokesman Bob Biersack. That means the FEC will have more than $100 million left over to fund this year’s conventions and future campaigns.

In other words, taxpayers don’t have to worry (or celebrate) that their money is going only to John McCain. He’s not getting a larger portion of the $3 donations—the extra cash just gets allocated to other areas.