Surcharges, General Fund payments to Clean Elections are indeed taxation - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Surcharges, General Fund payments to Clean Elections are indeed taxation

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Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2004 8:34 am

Sam Coppersmith thinks he got us. (See his column on the following page.) Good try, Sam, but you should have done your homework, like reading the fine print of the Clean Elections Act.

Sam argues that the Tribune and the Goldwater Institute are inconsistent for supporting Arizona’s private school scholarship fund tax credit but opposing the Clean Elections tax credit. But there’s a big difference between the two.

The scholarship tax credit allows taxpayers to direct some of their own money, which they otherwise would pay to the state tax man, to private organizations that help families send their kids to private or religious schools. Taxpayers get a dollar-for-dollar write-off on their tax bill.

The Clean Elections tax credit is actually two tax credits. The first is a $5 credit that is matched by the state’s General Fund. So everybody’s tax dollars go to politicians under the Clean Elections Act. Taxpayers can also direct more of their tax dollars to Clean Elections, but anything above $5 for an individual or $10 for a couple is not matched from the General Fund.

Also, we can quibble about whether a surcharge is a tax, but in our view, when the government forcibly takes money from citizens it’s a tax. Whether it’s officially labeled a "surcharge" or a "user fee," it’s still a tax that goes to support some government program.

Although Americans long ago reached consensus that a tax-funded public school system would be a good thing for the country, the notion of publicly funding politicians is a far more divisive issue. We should be very careful about what functions in a free society should be brought into the realm of public funding.

In our view, as much as possible should be kept in the private realm. And funding of politicians should be kept private. It’s not as if money for politicians were scarce. Individuals and groups that support this or that candidate or cause have long dug deep to finance campaigns.

Clean Elections, as well as federal campaign finance restrictions, are based on the spurious notion that private dollars are "dirty" and that limiting them and pumping in public money would somehow make politics "clean." The "clean" fallacy was exploded two years ago when several of Arizona’s Clean Elections-bankrolled candidates conducted the muddiest campaigns in recent Arizona history.

If private money is dirty, then let’s get more specific. Is it the money raised by the Sierra Club, or Right to Life, or National Abortion Rights, or labor unions, or business groups, or AARP, or Chances are, it’s the other person’s group that throws around "dirty, special interest money," while your own group is as clean as a mid-July Valley snowfall.

Individuals should be free to support the schools and political causes of their choice. We have no objection in principle to policymakers enacting tax credits or deductions to encourage such giving.

But tax dollars should not be going to politicians.

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