We Can Honor the Grassroots Money and the Constitution as We Reform Campaign Finance
Campaign finance reform. This phrase seems to have become synonymous with progressive policies like top-down government mandates and financial restrictions. It’s time to change that.
Ahead of the 2016 election cycle, the issue of money in politics and the resulting common frustration with the outsized influence held by mega-donors will increasingly come into focus. Conservatives across the country, particularly here in Ohio, have an opportunity to highlight a bottom-up approach to a problem more and more Americans are recognizing.
I recently had a chance to chat with a prominent conservative politician, 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.”
What a message to be able to convey to Americans disenfranchised by and disengaged from the political process! Instead of hearing only progressive ideas about restricting donors, conservatives should offer a strong response on empowering donors and providing tax credits to encourage greater participation.
This is why I was so disappointed to hear that Ohio’s political contribution tax credit was threatened last legislative cycle (and why I was so glad to hear it was kept intact). As one of the few states that provides a carrot for the small contributions that can fuel victories, conservative Ohioans should be upholding and strengthening this outstanding provision–not seeking to tear it down.
Making Grassroots Money Matter
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, and we see their influence on the political system. Whether it’s the president’s biggest backers (like Solyndra) getting sweet deals from the government, the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world leading the charge for amnesty, or Michael Bloomberg spending big to assault your constitutional rights, the ones with the biggest checks dominate the discussion.
That will change–not by limiting rights of others–but by incentivizing the ability of smaller contributors to make an impact and thereby increasing the total pool and balancing the equation. That is why we should encourage giving amongst average citizens by providing a $200 tax credit for their small campaign contribution to the candidate of their choice. I firmly believe that our republic is stronger when the government is focused on the good of the whole and not simply the self-interested mega wealthy.
Ohio has a great story to tell. Grassroots candidates have an opportunity to make the case to those for whom a check would be otherwise hard to write. The candidates and the individuals benefit, by participating AND receiving a tax credit and, more importantly, our democracy benefits.
With the presidential campaign now in full swing, I look forward to hearing the candidates’ responses to the question of how to deal with the problem of mega money influencing policy makers. In my view, conservatives would do well to have an answer–an answer consistent with conservative ideals of respecting the Constitution and encouraging participation in our democracy.
John Pudner ran conservative political efforts for more than two decades and was credited for winning a number of underfunded efforts that helped Republicans take over both the Virginia and Alabama legislatures for the first time. He ran a church outreach effort for Bush-Cheney 2000 in Ohio and 15 other states. In 2014, Pudner was hired by Dave Brat for his long-shot campaign to unseat Eric Cantor. The following November, he announced he would turn his attention to conservative solutions to money in politics as the Executive Director of Take Back Our Republic.
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