Filthy Lucre: The Mother’s Milk of National Politics
In our current system of national political fundraising, politicians and special interests win, taxpayers lose.
In 2011, the United States Congress voted to eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, the check-off option on federal tax returns that allowed the dwindling numbers of taxpaying Americans to allocate a tiny amount of their tax obligation to a presidential campaign fund.
Then-President Barack Obama signed the bill, so the $600 million-plus the fund collected in 2011 – less than two hours of federal spending – was squandered on other programs.
It made sense. After all, why preserve a funding source that had become effectively irrelevant?
In order to receive the cash, presidential candidates had to accept rules that modern campaigns find too restrictive: an overall spending limit, spending limits in every state, even swing states, using the funds only for narrowly-defined campaign expenses, maintaining accurate financial records, and submitting to thorough audits.
Accordingly, few candidates were inclined to use IRS-collected funds for presidential campaigns.
Candidate Barack Obama pledged to accept Presidential Election Campaign Fund money, but ultimately rejected the cash and the legal restraints, because, in addition to the restrictions, candidates who accept FEC-administered funds must also accept limits on fundraising from other donors. Obama’s handlers knew that there were many other far more generous, less obvious and less traceable sources of taxpayer-financed and subsidized campaign money. The Obama campaign used them all, as have most major party nominees since.
Politics runs on cash, so America’s political class is obsessed with getting its 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 subterfuges.
In short, favorable legislation, tax breaks, grants, loans and regulations attract funds. So does the threat of unfavorable actions by the Congress and executive branch agencies.
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, to cite just a few, are, at their core, money-laundering schemes used to convert taxpayers’ money into good will and campaign cash for incumbent politicians.
Mr. Obama misused money from his failed stimulus 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 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.
But, even if the presidential campaign donation check-off option had survived, there is nothing voluntary about paying taxes in America.
So what are taxpayers to do about what has become legalized government corruption?
Many/most taxpayers have interests beyond their own financial comfort. They’re concerned about their children and grandkids, too. No politician who helped the United States to amass a $30-plus trillion debt can reasonably claim to be the least bit concerned about them.
Because much of federal government spending is borrowed, taxpayers’ progeny, once born and working, will have no clue that, by funding ever-increasing 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 contributions to the nation’s debt.
Arguably, the most effective way to get money out of politics would be to reform a federal tax code that exceeds 75,000 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,” abortionists, public service unions, and many others.
If we could accomplish that, a lot of dirty political cash will disappear – along with all the highly paid lobbyists retained by special interests.
Smart Americans pay attention to how their members of Congress vote. If they are allowed to remain in office, members who approved massive spending bills that created $trillion-plus annual deficits and amassed a $30-plus trillion national debt will only worsen things.
Do you know if your member has? If not, find out – and vote out the offenders.