Yesterday I received from the congressman from my district, John Sarbanes, a description of legislation he proposes called the Grassroots Democracy Act. It’s horrible. He brazenly proposes taxing the general population to provide campaign funds for himself and others like him, and he does so in slick, fair-sounding language that presents the rip-off as a benefit to the victims.
This seems to me a lurid illustration of the way power corrupts.
I don’t mean that Mr. Sarbanes is corrupt in the sense of taking bribes or doing anything illegal. I have no reason to doubt that he means well and thinks of himself as a good man. Rather, I think he has been in an unhealthy position of power over others and their property, that is to say, in Congress, long enough that he has lost his moral perspective. He proposes to make legal what should be illegal.
In order to “EMPOWER EVERYDAY AMERICANS WITH DEMOCRACY DOLLARS” (note the positive connotations of “empower” and “democracy”) his bill would “[p]rovide Americans with a $50 refundable tax credit to contribute to their preferred candidates for Congressional office.” This means that a taxpayer could choose to divert up to $50 of what he or she must surrender in taxes to Mr. Sarbanes’s campaign instead of to the Treasury. (That in turn means that the federal debt would grow $50 greater in order that he and others like him might have $50 more to spend on their campaigns.)
Because Mr. Sarbanes proposes a refundable tax credit, the proposal would also mean that every donor to his campaign who pays no income taxes (that’s roughly half of Americans now) would receive a $50 government check to cover his or her “donation.” Where is that “refund” (more positive connotation—“refund” suggests that one is just getting back one’s own) going to come from? It will come from some “everyday American” who does pay taxes, whether he or she supports Mr. Sarbanes or not.
The next section aims to “AMPLIFY THE IMPACT OF GRASSROOTS DONATIONS” (that certainly sounds good) in the following way:
Multiply the impact of grassroots donations ($100 or less). Candidates who forego traditional PAC money [note the negative connotations] and focus on earning broad-based support from grassroots donors [note the positive connotations] in their district or state will receive public matching funds for grassroots donations. The match will be 5-to-1 where the candidate elects to maintain some degree of high dollar support and 10-to-1 where he or she commits to accepting only donations of $100 or less.
So if I donate $50 to Mr. Sarbanes’s campaign, at no cost to myself thanks to the tax credit he would give me, he would receive another $250 to “match” my “donation.” He would receive it even if he were to “maintain [the] high dollar support” he enjoys here in our district.
Where would that $250 come from? It would come from taxes levied on “everyday Americans,” most of whom do not choose to donate to the congressman’s campaign. $50 in “democracy dollars” plus the $250 match comes to $300 worth of campaign funds, taken from those who do not support him, based on each of his grass-roots “supporters,” who need not actually give him anything from their own wallets or checking accounts.
Thus Congressman John Sarbanes would “empower everyday Americans” by taking their money for his own use. It’s brilliant.
But he doesn’t stop there. He proposes further to “FIGHT BACK AGAINST UNLIMITED OUTSIDE SPENDING” with an additional 1-for-1 match with more everyday Americans’ money, from “the People’s Fund.” (Yes, this could be from Atlas Shrugged. No, I’m not making it up.) Mr. Sarbanes would
[e]stablish a People’s Fund to prevent super PACs and other big money organizations from drowning out the voice of the people. In elections where outside spending significantly outpaces national norms, grassroots supported candidates will have access to the People’s Fund to make sure their voice – and the voice of their grassroots supporters – can still be heard. Once total non-candidate spending reaches a certain decibel level [nice term, suggesting mere noise], grassroots supported candidates will have the opportunity to apply for an additional 1:1 match on their grassroots base, providing immediate, supplemental support.
This 1-for-1 match would turn the $300 we figured above into $600 of campaign funds, $600 taken from working people who might well oppose the candidate it goes to, based on every phantom $50 “donation.”
All this is a painful illustration of why the coercive, governmental sector of society should be kept as narrow as possible and the voluntary, market sector of society should be as wide as possible: human beings can’t handle power over others. When they get it, they tend to use it to their own advantage at others’ expense, usually rationalizing speciously that what’s good for them is really good for others.