“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” -Thomas Jefferson

We all have our own unique story in this world, of where we came from, who we are now, and how we’ve grown to become the person we are. We’ve all had some help along the journey — from friends, family, teachers/mentors or even from strangers — and yet we can all conceive of ways we’d like to see the world improved. This weekend, let Brother Ali (featured once before here) remind you of this as he sings about his son,

Faheem.

Well, I’m about to share with you a way I’ve learned that a few of us — despite not being rich, powerful, influential or famous — can do something about it.

Image credit: United States Government / Wikimedia Commons user Parhamr.

Image credit: United States Government / Wikimedia Commons user Parhamr.

Imagine if you were simply given $50, and told that you can put that money towards any political candidate, party, campaign, or political action committee that you like, or you could do nothing, and simply lose the $50.

What would you do?

Believe it or not, this is the law in my state (Oregon), and most people do nothing, most likely because they don’t know they can. (Note: this is not a tax deduction, it’s a tax credit, meaning you get 100% of your donation back!)

Image credit: Oregon State Tax Return (2009), Long Form.

Image credit: Oregon State Tax Return (2009), Long Form.

Image credit: Oregon State Tax Return (2009), Short Form.

Image credit: Oregon State Tax Return (2009), Short Form.

Well, I’d like to change that, and see people get involved! Oregon is one of many states that has a state income tax, and if you earned more than a few thousand dollars, chances are you’ll have paid (or owe) at least $50 (or $100 for couples) for the year.

And if that’s the case, you can make a $50 donation (or $100 donation) to any local, state or federal candidate, party, campaign or PAC and get 100% of that money back on your tax return! Here’s the complete info, from the state of Oregon itself:

Oregon law allows a tax credit for political contributions.

Who can claim the credit? To qualify, you must have contributed money in the tax year you claim the credit. You must reduce the amount of your contribution by the fair market value (FMV) of any item(s) or service(s) you receive in exchange for your contribution. Contributions of goods or services do not qualify. Keep receipts from the candidate or organization with your tax records. You can use copies of canceled checks as your receipt.

How much is the credit? Your credit is equal to your contribution, but limited to $100 on a joint return or $50 on a single or separate return. The $3 check-off on the Oregon tax return does not qualify for this credit.

Partners or S corporation shareholders can claim a credit for their share of political contributions made by the partnership or S corporation. The contribution must meet the statutory requirements. The $50 and $100 limits apply individually to each partner’s or shareholder’s return.

No carryforward. The credit cannot be more than your tax liability for Oregon. Any credit not used this year is lost.

Which contributions qualify? Candidates and their principal campaign committees. You can claim a credit for a contribution to a candidate for federal, state, or local elective office, or to the candidate’s principal campaign committee. To qualify, at least one of the following must occur in Oregon the same calendar year you made your contribution:

  • The candidate’s name must be listed on a primary, general, or special election ballot,
  • A prospective petition of nomination must be filed by or for the candidate,
  • A declaration of candidacy must be filed by or for the candidate,
  • A certificate of nomination must be filed by or for the candidate,
  • A designation of a principal campaign committee must be filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Note: The designation must be made in each year a contribution is made to qualify under this provision.

Political action committees. You can claim a credit for contributions to political action committees (PACs). The organization must have certified the name of its political treasurer with the appropriate filing officer, usually the Secretary of State for statewide or regional elections, your county clerk for county elections, or your city recorder for city elections. PACs registered with the Federal Elections Commission may not be required to register in Oregon.

Political partiesPolitical parties can be national, state, or local committees of major political parties.
Oregon also allows a tax credit for contributions made to minor political parties that qualify under
state law. Contact the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office in Salem at 503-986-1518 to see if a particular party qualifies.

And if there are no candidates or parties that speak for you, there are plenty of good places to make this donation depending on what you’re passionate about, including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the Oregon End Violence Against Women PAC, or any PAC registered with the Federal Elections Commission, and there’s a big list of them here. (Still no PAC for NASA, if you were wondering!)

Image credit: The Colbert Report / Comedy Central; sorry, http://www.colbertsuperpac.com/ is defunct!

Image credit: The Colbert Report / Comedy Central; sorry, http://www.colbertsuperpac.com/ is defunct!

The latest on this law is that it’s been renewed through the end of 2019, and anyone paying at least $50 ($100 for couples) is eligible for the political tax credit. Starting in 2014, the law changes so that only individuals making less than $100,000 (and couples making less than $200,000) are eligible.

But the vast majority of taxpayers that are eligible for this credit do nothing, and miss their chance to actually have a voice — however small — in the political process. Only about 100,000 tax filers claim this credit annually, out of a population of about 3.9 million. At its peak of popularity, only 7.8% of tax filers took advantage of this credit! In other words, nearly all of us could be making a difference, for free, if we simply chose to.

Image credit: retrieved from Oregon Family Council; original source unknown.

Image credit: retrieved from Oregon Family Council; original source unknown.

I initially thought this was unique to Oregon, but it turns out Ohio, Virginia and Arkansas (at least) also offer political tax credits! I’m not in any way endorsing any specific candidate, party or PAC, but I am endorsing that you get involved — and use your voice — if you can.

Feel free to leave your favorite recommendations in the comments below, and know that even though election season is long over, you still have until December 31st to make a difference!

Comments

  1. #1 OKThen
    Clearly 92.7% of the people are wrong. Right??
    December 15, 2013

    “But the vast majority of taxpayers that are eligible for this credit do nothing, and miss their chance to actually have a voice — however small — in the political process… At its peak of popularity, only 7.8% of tax filers took advantage of this credit!”

    Well, doing nothing is doing something. And doing nothing is having a voice in the political process. And so called doing nothing is not small. I mean 92.7% of the people have done nothing; that is quite a statement!!

    The problem is why has no politician had an interest in taking a survey and findinbg out why 92% of my constituents not participating?

    Of course, politicians don’t ask embarrassing questions; because they don’t want to hear embarrassing and incriminating answers that they already know.

    Intelligent educated people are not participating in politics because they know, as the silent politicians know full well, that politicians only need constituents for the votes. But what they really need is the special interest groups with BIG money to win elections.

    So once every 4 years or so depending on the office; the politicians go out and talk to their constituency. Yes talk, they seldom listen. And they astutely try to be as positive and likable as possible, all the while trying to avoid answering any question as to where they stand politically. (p.s. it usually takes about 4 questions and 5 minutes to get a local politician; who has just knocked on my door to tell me which political party he or she is a member off. No the brochure that he hands out does not mention his political party and contains a lot of nice nice mush words.) As for any specific question the typical answer is; Well if that ever becomes an issue that I will have to vote on; well then I will certainly have to consider that and would want to consider your opinion on that before making my decision. This kind of evasiveness is called leadership and is the norm in politics as usual.

    But of course, the real constituents of the politicians are not the people who vote; the real constituents are the special interest groups with the money. And frankly that $50 extra dollars of token participation money is a waste of taxpayers money.

    Those who believe that the current political process is working, 7.8% of the people, check off a box on their tax return . Those who think that the current political process is not working, 92.2% of the people, do not check off that box on their tax returns.

    Well there are many ways of participating (e.g. occupy Wall Street, or contributing $50 to your favorite special interest group (e.g. planned parenthood)) and sometimes not participating is best form of participation. Wow 92.7% not particiapting; that is a message. Which politician has said anything about that except pounding on his chest and strutting about proud as can be that he aims to change that. How do you change any “that” that you don’t understand and like an ostrich with your head in the sand, you don’t want to understand.

    Why has participation in political party politics declining for the last 20 or 30 years in the U.S. and in most developed countries?

    Well in my opinion, this question is similar to the question, why is membership in organized churches declining? the politicians and the churches pretend that this is a problem which they understand and which they intend to change because they believe that the trend is wrong.

    I mean when 92.7% of the people refuse to participate in a clearly excellent political process; well then 92.7% of the people must be wrong. Right??

    But sticking to the politics of politics, why? Why are so many educated people apolitical? Or are they?

    Ruling the Void (The Hollowing of Western Democracy) by Peter Mair 2013 begins, “The age of party democracy has passed.. elections have less and less practical effect, because the working, or “efficient” part of the constitution is being steadily relocated elsewhere…”

    Or consider, the work of the work of Thomas Linzey, who tries to teach cities, yes whole cities, to write laws that are unconstitutional (as an act of civil disobedience) against federal (yes, U.S. government laws and the U. S. Constitution itself) on issues like sustainability. e.g. city bans fracking, which means that the property owner doesn’t have the right to do what he will with his property. And of course property is king.

    So first the company (e.g. fracking in your neighborhood) sues the city; then that is bad publicity; the company gets the state attorney general to sue the city. Or if the State then turns civil disobedient and passes a low against fracking; the federal government sues the state.

    Or even on an international level the WTO is the court where the french disagree about gmo or whatever.

    But whether local, state, US federal or World; notice that the action is not in the legislature it is in the courts.

    So who do you give your $50 to? You friendly politician, or someone like Thomas Linzey.

    ” it’s time to stop begging the government and corporations to cause less harm. It’s time to replace corporate minority decision-making with community self-government.. Over 100 communities across the country have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted laws intended to assert local, democratic control directly over corporations. Campbell points out that the citizens are not begging the government to give them more rights; they are manifes.. “Today, it is our communities and natural systems that are treated as property under the law – just as slaves once were – because people living in communities can’t control their own futures, and what’s in our communities is routinely bought, sold, and traded without a whisker of local control,” says Linzey. “In many ways, this work is about walking in the footsteps of those prior movements to transform ourselves from being property under the law to becoming people who harness the power of government to defend and enforce our rights.””

  2. #2 Alan L.
    December 16, 2013

    Setting aside the fact that I don’t really care, one way or another, what brand of political cultism gains power in this or that elective dictatorship, why do you think that allocating X amount of money to this or that faction of political cultists-cum-wannabe elected dictators, seeking election or re-election, means something, or anything?

    A voice? Your political power (and everyone else’s) reduces to absolutely zero one millisecond after you have deposited your vote during the periodic elections held in every elective dictatorship on this planet, bar none. (There are only about two or three dozen of them).

    If you believe otherwise, then you’re a child.

    Oops! I’ve just realized that I’ve descended into the standard communication mode of the pet psychopath of this toxic science blog.

  3. #3 Alan L.
    December 16, 2013

    @OKThen

    Just to clarify, my comments were not addressed to you, the Pooch Whisperer, but to Ethan’s post.

  4. #4 Denier
    December 16, 2013

    Not to be a bomb thrower, but the MONEY ISN’T FREE! At least it is not free to the taxpayer.

    It is true the politicians have written into the tax laws that every filing taxpayer can take $50 from the state’s general fund and give those funds to a politician. If everyone forwarded $50 to the politician of their choice, then there would be a deficit in the general fund which would need to be made up by tax increases, but the politicians would be swimming in cash.

    So everyone be sure to bury your state in budget deficits, and make politicians rich, because we all know there just isn’t enough money in politics, and the airwaves at election time don’t have nearly enough political advertisements.

  5. #5 Wow
    December 16, 2013

    It’s negative.

    Taxing means that you get paid every time money moves. So government spending IS NOT like household spending or corporation spending.

    The reason why the west is mostly buggered is because rich people sit the money down and don’t move it around (in the same place they make the money), therefore it deflates the markets.

    Add the Holy Writ that Taxes Are Bad (on rich people) and the system is double-stuffed.

    Money IS FREE to the taxpayer. It just needs to keep moving.

  6. #6 eric
    December 16, 2013

    OkThen:

    But of course, the real constituents of the politicians are not the people who vote; the real constituents are the special interest groups with the money. And frankly that $50 extra dollars of token participation money is a waste of taxpayers money.

    That may be true if you’re talking about the Presidential election (100,000 users X $50 = $5mil. In contrast, in 2008 Obama spent $1.7 billion and all candidates combined spent over $5 billion). That election, however, is the extreme case. Local elections generally have much much smaller war chests, and a couple hundred thousand can make a big impact. So I wouldn’ pooh-pooh the amount.

    Denier – I’d like it if there were less special interest influence in politics. But since stopping people from spending has been rejected by SCOTUS (money is a form of speech that can’t be denied our coporate citizens, don’cha know), the other option for diluting special interest influence is to make politicians less dependent on it as their sole source of election funding. This is a Churchillian situation: public tax-free donations are the absolute worst possible solution to special interest spending…except for all the others.

  7. #7 Denier
    December 16, 2013

    @Wow #5: Sometime I find your comments taxing, and that is not to say I get a benefit of encouragement every time your cursor moves.

    ^^ kiding on that comment, but couldn’t resist. You are interesting just the way you are.

    @eric #6: This doesn’t drown out special interests. Special Interests too can get their $50 from the collective debt pile. With politicians, it isn’t either or. They take both. The best we can hope for is to not heap debt on ourselves just to benefit their personal power.

  8. #8 Dale
    December 16, 2013

    Ethan, this might also interest you: conducting the primaries in Oregon by approval voting (spoiler-free elections!).

    http://www.approvalprimary.org/

  9. #9 PJ
    December 16, 2013

    Isn’t it interesting that the only black holes we get to see are the ones in the hands of political economists.

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