Mike Pence Sought Public Funds as 2024 Presidential Bid Collapsed

Former Vice President Mike Pence sought public financing for his failed presidential primary campaign, a highly unusual move that if successful would make him the first Republican in more than a decade to receive such funds, according to Federal Election Commission documents that have not previously been disclosed.

Starting in the post-Watergate era, the federal government has allowed presidential candidates to apply for and receive public dollars. But the program has become all but obsolete as it imposes strict spending limits on anyone who participates, at a time when the cost of nationwide campaigning has skyrocketed.

Even applying for the money is generally seen as a sign of desperation because the limits of the program are so onerous.

Mr. Pence, who served as former President Donald J. Trump’s running mate in 2016 and 2020 before challenging him last year, struggled for traction in the 2024 Republican race from the very start.

Campaigning as an avatar of the G.O.P.’s old guard and warning that Mr. Trump’s populism was the “road to ruin,” Mr. Pence raised around $5.3 million last year, never found significant support in public polls and dropped out in late October when faced with the possibility of not qualifying for another debate.

Mr. Pence’s campaign committee had more than $1.3 million in unpaid debts as of the end of March, federal records show. Qualifying for public funds now would presumably help him pay down those bills.

A spokesman for Mr. Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not clear why Mr. Pence’s request for public funds last fall had not yet been acted upon. On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission posted an eligibility report from its audit division of the request, as well as a memorandum from its general counsel’s office about the matter. A discussion is on the agenda for a commission meeting on Thursday.

There are strict limits to qualify for the public-financing program, including raising $5,000 in at least 20 different states. The candidates themselves must not spend more than $50,000 of their own money.

Notably, Mr. Pence had initially seeded his campaign with $150,000 in July 2023. But he refunded $100,000 of that on Oct. 3, weeks before he dropped out, records show. That move could potentially make him eligible for public funds, but it also shows that he might have been considering exiting the race for weeks before he quit. The F.E.C. documents posted on Tuesday suggest he applied for public funds on Oct. 12.

In a sign of the program’s increasingly irrelevant status, no Democrat or Republican used the program in 2020.

The last major-party candidate to take advantage of the program in a primary was Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who ran for president in 2016 as a Democrat and received just over $1 million in public funds. The last major-party candidate to receive matching funds in a general election was John McCain in his 2008 Republican campaign.

Barack Obama’s decision in that 2008 campaign to opt out of the public financing system is widely seen as the functional end of the program for general election campaigns.

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