Bill introduced encouraging small donors to contribute to federal candidates

For the past few weeks, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and a handful of other Senate Democrats have been sending out emails trying to get voters to sign a petition urging Congress to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows for unlimited giving to super PACS.

It’s unlikely that it will happen anytime soon. For one, it’s rare for Congress to pass a law that directly conflicts with a Supreme Court decision. And even if it does, the Supreme Court would have to be convinced to change its mind. Secondly, it’s unlikely that Congress will change the law given that so much super PAC money is involved in the electoral process. (It should be noted that there’s a super PAC set up to promote Begich’s candidacy.)

One legislator is trying to counterbalance the big money that goes into elections. U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican from Wisconsin, recently introduced legislation to restore tax credits and deductions for small political contributions. Under H.R. 3586, small donors would be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $200 ($400 on a joint return) for contributions to a national political party or a candidate for a federal office. The bill would also allow a campaign contributor to elect a tax deduction, instead of a tax credit, of up to $600 ($1,200 on a joint return).

It’s not a new idea. Such tax incentives were repealed in 1986 as part of an effort to simplify the tax code. With the repeal went many small donors.

According to an analysis from Dēmos, a nonprofit that tracks political donations, in the last election cycle, candidates for House and Senate raised the majority of their money from those who donated $1000 or more, and 40 percent of the money from those who gave $2500 or more, or .02 percent of the population.

Nearly 60 percent of super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of super PACs money came in contributions of $10,000 or more from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the U.S. population.

If the bill reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate floor, it will be interesting to see how Begich and that handful of Senate Democrats vote.

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