The Tea Party Case Against Mega Donors

Small donors need tax breaks more than super wealthy ones, and yet we continue to subsidize the latter. Time for right and left to team up and end this madness.

05.26.15 9:15 AM ET

I recently had a chance to chat with one of the GOP presidential candidates, and suggested to him that we needed to focus on making small donors a bigger part of the campaign finance equation, and he actually finished my sentence by saying, “… because unlike big donors, they do not expect anything in return.”

Yet Congress continues to subsidize those big donors through tax credits, which is both unfair and bad for the country. Think about it: If you had to choose between giving average citizens a $200 tax credit for their small campaign contribution to the candidate of their choice or giving billionaires like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg a tax break for pumping over $100 million into the candidate of their choice, which would you choose?

I think it is pretty clear that most Americans would choose to help everyday people, not multi-millionaires. And there’s an easy way to do it: Getting more taxpaying citizens involved in their government by offering a tax credit for donating to political candidates. Conservatives like the Take Back Our Republic Action Fund and liberals like Common Cause agree that Congress’ decision to give mega donors a tax benefit for the millions of dollars they inject into U.S. elections was wrong. Politico previously reported that Steyer and Bloomberg were the top two such donors—giving more than $100 million combined last year. It’s no secret who is benefiting from Congress’ actions.

Last year, before retiring from running political campaigns, I wrote and produced a commercial on this backroom, left-right “deal-making” that Washington politicians are addicted to. Our efforts to take on the entrenched players in Washington resulted in Majority Leader Eric Cantor being replaced by Dave Brat, a professor from Virginia.

Our republic is stronger when the government is focused on the good of the whole and not simply the self-interested mega wealthy.

Sadly, the current state of affairs is that the top 100 political donors in America contribute almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined. Isn’t it fair to assume that these billionaires can afford to give that money whether or not they pay taxes on it or not? If George Kaiser, who was Solyndra’s largest shareholder, donates to the President and then Solyndra is given a $535 million dollar loan before declaring bankruptcy, can we at least question if incentivizing large contributions leads to good government?

Right now there are about 10,000 small donors per congressional district, and together they gave $356 million. With just a little incentive, they would give a lot more.

At Dave Brat’s first major fundraiser against Eric Cantor last year, some of the 200 in attendance decided not to write a check once they realized political contributions were not tax deductible. Some of them were old enough to remember getting a tax credit when they gave to Ronald Reagan years earlier.

If our ultimate goal is to restore the citizens’ faith in their government, shouldn’t we also do what we can to make it easier for those same citizens to give a small contribution to the candidates of their choice? Citizens who write the small checks tend to also start talking to their friends, go knock on doors or share information via social media. And when citizens get involved, the outcomes are better.

The huge falloff in voter turnout for both parties in 2012 and 2014 is partly a result of hard-working citizens giving up on their government. Frustrated voters feel that party bosses and their politicians aren’t paying enough attention to them and are instead focused on the large donors.

A nice start in repairing this disenfranchisement would be for Congress to give a tax credit for the thousands of small donors waiting to put their faith back in their leaders.

John Pudner is president of Take Back Our Republic Action Fund, a group advocating conservative solutions to campaign finance reform.