Introducing the representation credit
By Rob Schaaf Nov 27, 2016 (4)
This Election Day, we Missourians voted overwhelmingly against pay-to-play politics and in favor of anti-corruption reform. We reinstated contribution limits at the state level, elected a governor committed to fighting corruption in Jefferson City, and chose a president who ran against the status quo, promising he would return government to the people.
Those of us in the Legislature now have a duty to answer Missourians’ call for reform. Though the voters reinstated contribution limits, serious problems remain. The problem of dark money is worse than ever, with many millions spent this year by funders who hid their identities from the people of Missouri. The new contribution limits are coming under attack, challenged in the courts. Meanwhile, lobbyists are still free to lavish lawmakers with gifts, purchasing undeserved access and influence. And small donors still play little role in our election campaigns, far outspent by big-money special interests.
To address these problems, I will be filing several reform bills this December. First among these will be Senate Bill 1: The Taxation With Representation Act. This bill carries forward the spirit of the original Tea Party — that of our Founders — its title reflecting their motto: “No Taxation Without Representation.” It would let each Missourian subtract up to $100 per year from their state income taxes, letting them claim a dollar-per-dollar credit for donations to county-level party committees and to candidates for state representative, state senator and statewide office.
In effect, it would let each Missourian take control of the first $100 of their own taxes and allocate those dollars to political campaigns of their choice. By doing so, it would give each more say in how the rest of their taxes would be used. More generally, it would decentralize the funding of political campaigns, diluting the influence of big-money special interests and making government more accountable to the people. Such a system has worked in other states, and it would work here.
If this bill were passed, imagine how it would change the way that candidates run for office. No longer would they need to spend so much time attending special-interest fundraisers or calling the rich and powerful to ask for money. Instead, to win their races, they would need to mount broad-based grassroots campaigns, appealing to small donors for support. They would have more reason to mobilize volunteers, go door-to-door, and even hold fundraisers in middle- and working-class homes. They would depend more on their constituents and spend more time hearing from them, so they would better represent those constituents’ interests once elected.
This bill also would help political parties work better for the people of Missouri. In recent years, parties have become less and less accountable to everyday citizens, increasingly competing for financial support from big-money special interests. This bill would put everyday citizens back in charge, empowering them to hold their own against big donors by donating to locally run party committees. Parties would become more accountable to their grassroots supporters, and local party organizations would be able to reclaim some of the relevance they have lost as special-interest money has flooded the political system.
Finally, this bill would bring new life to grassroots democracy, giving citizens more reason to engage in the political process. Just as expanding the right to vote has allowed more citizens to participate in voting elections, this bill would allow more citizens to participate in what now amounts to a highly exclusive money election. Today, one usually must be wealthy or know wealthy people to meaningfully influence the money election. But if this bill were passed, everyday citizens would find not only themselves but also those around them ready to donate to political campaigns. They would be able to make a real difference just by raising funds from friends, family and neighbors. Because of this, many would be more inclined to participate in political campaigns, become active in their parties, or even run for office themselves.
I hope you will join me in fighting to pass this crucial reform, one that would empower small donors and put grassroots organizing back at the center of political life.
Rob Schaaf, a Republican, is the state senator for Platte and Buchanan counties.