Wouldn’t you like to direct more of your tax dollars and be able to use them to help elect candidates for public office who would well … be better stewards of your tax dollars? We believe that you should be able to take a tax credit for small contributions to candidates for Federal (and state) office. This would encourage more people to become involved in the political process and at the same time remind candidates that the source of their power is the people.
The ability to direct up to $100 of your paid taxes to elect political leaders would encourage voters to learn the voting history of the candidates, pay attention to issues being discussed that will affect their lives, and encourage engagement as political leaders interact with everyday citizens in order to court their support and understand their issues instead of just those of special interests with PAC accounts.
Currently, 63% of political contributions in races for the U.S. House come from people who give more than $200.
There are many ideas for how such a proposal could work. Some favor a voucher; we prefer a tax credit to reduce the possibilities for fraud or voter manipulation. Some also propose tax deductions in addition to or instead of tax credits. (A tax credit is an amount a taxpayer can claim against income, reducing the total amount of income that is subject to Federal or state tax; a tax deduction is an amount a taxpayer can claim to reduce the amount of tax owed to the government.)
This is an old idea but one that should be revived. Federal law permitted deductions for small political contributions from 1972 to 1986. Now, restoring this deduction and possibly adding a tax credit would expand the donor base for candidates for Federal office and reduce their reliance on special interest-driven political action committees (PACs).
At the Federal level, in November 2013, Rep. Thomas Petri (WI) introduced the Citizens Involvement in Campaigns (CIVIC) Act. That bill proposes tax credits up to $200 for individual political contributions and a tax deduction for contributions up to $600. His interesting bill provides a good basis for discussion in the new Congress of finding some way of making tax-advantaged small political contributions. We strongly encourage the new Congress to have a good debate on this issue and the relative merits of different systems of finding tax advantages for small political contributions from citizens.
Some states already have similar systems. Virginia currently has a small credit ($25 for individual taxpayers or $50 for a joint return) for candidates in a primary, special, or general election for state or local office. In 2011, taxpayers were able to keep $821,000 of their own money under this law by donating it to candidates who they thought would be the best stewards of the $79.1 billion the Commonwealth and local governments spent that year. And it encouraged more people to donate to local races, for which it can be harder to raise money. Oregon has a more generous system ($50 for individual filers; $100 for joint filers); Oregon’s system also permits taxpayers to take the credit for donations to candidates for Federal office and to political action committees and to take tax deductions for larger contributions. Arkansas, Ohio, and Minnesota also permit deductions or credits for small political contributions.
These credits, however, are often not well-known, and few taxpayers take the credits available to them. Expanding the system to the Federal level and better publicity of the availability of the credit in states where it is permitted would raise the number of taxpayers who take advantage of the credits.
We believe that expanding these systems at the state level and restoring it at the Federal level would sharply increase ordinary citizens’ direct participation in the political process through donating small contributions to the candidates of their choice.