Campaign Funding Corruption
The United States House of Representatives recently voted to cancel the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, the check-off option on federal tax returns that allows the dwindling numbers of Americans who pay taxes to allocate a small amount of their tax obligation to a presidential campaign fund. The House action was sensible. Why preserve a funding source that has become so unimportant in presidential politics? If the Senate agrees, and the president signs the bill, the $600 million plus collected in the fund in 2011 – the equivalent of 87.5 MINUTES of federal spending — will be captured to pay for other programs.
The Campaign Fund is administered by the Federal Election Commission primarily for the nominees of the two major parties. Nominees from smaller parties meeting popularity thresholds can qualify for proportionate amounts of funds. In order to receive the money, presidential candidates must accept an overall spending limit, spending limits in every state, even swing states, use the funds only for narrowly-defined campaign expenses, maintain accurate financial records and submit to a thorough audit — rules that modern campaigns find too restrictive.
Many taxpayers don’t mark the box, and the tax form check-off doesn’t permit one to choose a party or candidate to receive their money. Few candidates today are inclined to use IRS-collected funds for presidential campaigns.
Despite a pledge to accept Presidential Election Campaign Fund money, candidate Obama rejected the cash and the legal restraints applied by the practice, because candidates who accept FEC-administered funds must also accept limits on fundraising from other donors. Obama’s handlers knew that there are many other far more generous, less obvious and less traceable sources of taxpayer-financed and subsidized campaign money. The Obama campaign used them all.
Politics runs on cash. The all-consuming question for the American political class is how to get their hands on lots of it. To attract campaign funds, national politicians have hidden incentives for funding campaigns in legislation, in regulations, in grants and low-interest loans, and in the tax code, among other practices of Congress and the executive branch. In short, favorable legislation, tax breaks and regulations attract funds. So does the threat of unfavorable actions by the Congress and executive branch agencies.
To cite just a few, congressional earmarks, farm subsidies, ethanol mandates, generous public service union contracts, financial services bailouts and directed stimulus and bailout funds for favored constituencies and special interests are, at their core, money laundering schemes used to convert taxpayers’ money into good will and campaign cash for incumbent politicians. Stimulus funds were spent to rescue labor union pension funds and to close budgets in left-leaning states and municipalities, thereby preventing teachers and other public unions from losing dues-payers to layoffs. The recipients of tax breaks and taxpayer-funded subsidies, the public service union beneficiaries of generous taxpayer-financed pay and benefits and recipients of the taxpayer-supported stimulus and bailout funds are among the most powerful lobbies, the most generous contributors to political campaigns, and the most tireless workers during election season.
The system is corrupt. Politicians win; special interests win; taxpayers lose.
Even if the presidential campaign donation check-off survives on our 1040 tax forms, there is nothing voluntary about paying taxes in America.
So what are taxpayers to do about the problem of legalized corruption in government? Taxpayers have interests beyond our own financial comfort. We’re concerned about our children and grandkids, too. No politician who helped to permit the United States to amass a $15 trillion debt can reasonably claim to be the least bit concerned about them.
Because the cash used for stimulus and bailouts was borrowed, once born and working, our progeny will have no clue that, by funding debt payments, they are still contributing to preserving the careers of long-departed and forgotten politicians who have left no individual mark on American history beyond their contribution to the nation’s debt.
The simplest way to get money out of politics would be to reform a federal tax code that exceeds 70,000 pages full of deals and loopholes for special interests gained by rewarding national politicians with campaign cash. Simplify the tax code, close the loopholes, then make sense of America’s regulatory framework and eliminate taxpayer-funded subsidies for special interests like "green energy," oil companies and farm products, among many others. If we can accomplish that the political cash will go away — along with all the highly paid lobbyists retained by special interests.
Finally, if congressional pensions were banned, politicians will term-limit themselves. Without special interest campaign cash and generous pensions, we can restore the concept of public service common to office-holders in the early days of the American republic before members of Congress began to make office-for-life an attractive career choice by awarding themselves generous salaries, pensions and perks.
Smart, informed voters must eyeball members of Congress — learn how they vote. Members who voted for bailouts, the stimulus and allowed greater than trillion dollar annual deficits will only make things worse if allowed to remain in office.