State should revive tax program for small donations [UPDATED]Published 9:44am Tuesday, December 20, 2011 Updated 11:45am Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Tucked into the resignation letter Republican State Chairman Tony Sutton issued on Dec. 2 was an acknowledgement that a GOP-backed tax law change has contributed to the financial trouble that beset his party on his watch.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2009 unallotment and the Legislature’s subsequent defunding of refunds for small donors to candidates and political parties — a change long sought by Republicans — pinched the Grand Old Party hard.
It eliminated matching refunds of up to $50 per year for individuals and $100 for couples, saving the state a projected $11.8 million in the 2012-13 biennium.
“Losing the refund program has had a devastating effect on (the state Republican Party’s) small dollar fundraising programs as compared to the past,” Sutton wrote.
“We went from an average donation of $60 to one of $28 — however; the costs remain the same to take in less money. Party finance staff estimate the loss of the refund program cost us $2 million in lost revenue in 2010 and $1 million in 2011.”
That result shouldn’t have been a surprise to Sutton or any other Republican leader.
The Political Contribution Refund, or PCR, was more advantageous to the GOP than to any other party since its 1990 inception, though donations to the DFL, Independence and Green parties and to those parties’ candidates for state office were also eligible for refunds.
In the last two years in which refunds were made, 2008 and 2009, refunded gifts to the GOP outnumbered those to the DFL by roughly 3 to 1.
Anyone tempted to chortle at the GOP’s self-inflicted financial wound should stifle the impulse. The loss of the PCR has also hit the DFL Party hard. DFL State Chair Ken Martin estimated that small donations to the party are down by at least half since the PCR was suspended.
Of greater concern than the relative financial health of political entities is a concern echoed in a commentary on the opposite page: The loss of the PCR shifts political clout away from people of modest means and toward well-heeled corporate interests.
It coincided with the opening of campaign finance floodgates by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2010 ruling permitting corporate and union funding of political advertising.
The upshot: Just as special interests were handed a megaphone, Minnesotans who can afford only a loan, not a gift, to parties and candidates were muzzled.
The departing Republican chair’s accounting of the high cost of the PCR’s elimination ought to inspire second thoughts among the refund’s critics.
— Star Tribune