Monday, April 18, 2011

Campaign Finance Reform is the Only Issue That Matters

In the last couple of weeks it's become common knowledge that GE has payed no federal income tax in recent years. But GE is just one of many U.S. corporations that have learned to play our political system for gain, that is, to make contributions to political campaigns and employ lobbyists, and in return get loopholes in the tax law written specifically for their company. Public Campaign has an article on their website, The Artful Dodgers, that exposes a long list of corporations that have paid no or very little federal taxes in the last few years. In addition, the article details the amounts of their contributions to politicians and their payments to lobbyists. The list includes energy, transportation, and telecommunications companies and banks. For example, Exxon:
Exxon is also one of America’s most flagrant tax avoiders. According to a report by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the company made $19 billion in profits in 2009 but paid no federal income taxes. In fact, “it actually received a $156 million rebate from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), according to its SEC filings.” Perhaps some of that money was recycled back into the government. Over the past ten years Exxon’s PAC and employees have made $5.7 million in federal campaign contributions, with $433,000 of it going directly to members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees. It also spent $137 million on federal lobbying expenditures over that same period to make sure its voice was being heard as loud as its money.

The article's conclusion is that the only solution is to get money out of politics:

Elected officials across the political spectrum are talking about the need for shared sacrifice to reduce our deficit. Both Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and President Obama have talked about getting rid of special interest tax loopholes. But, talk doesn’t equal action. And it’s not going to happen as long as well-heeled companies like G.E. or Chevron are able to use millions in lobbying and campaign contributions to advocate for the creation of loopholes and tax breaks, and against their closure. Reforming our tax code won’t happen when every line in it has a special interest that will push back against any increase. Perhaps the blame rests on the systemic barriers to change, though, and not Congress’ seeming inability to come to agreement on what to cut.

Main Street Americans can’t hire big lobbyists or donate thousands in campaign cash to politicians. If corporations continue to purchase access and influence, they will continue to have a head start in avoiding paying their fair share. That leaves our nation’s debt and annual deficits unfairly heaped on the backs of everyday Americans. That’s why Congress must address the way campaigns are financed. One such proposal is the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 750, H.R. 1404), which would allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office without relying on wealthy donors to fund their campaigns. With Fair Elections, candidates can rely solely on people back home to pay for their campaigns, freeing them to make decisions based on what’s right, not what will affect their campaign bank account. Only then might we see government of, by, and for the people—not the tax-dodging, big corporations who fund campaigns today.

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