Congressman Tom Petri has introduced a campaign finance reform bill he believes could counteract big money campaign donations with a lot more small ones.
Petri, R-Wis., introduced the Citizen Involvement in Campaigns Act, or CIVIC Act, Nov. 21 and has been fielding supportive calls from both legislators and outside groups concerned about campaign finance issues. The bill would give individuals a $200 tax credit or a $600 tax deduction for individuals who donate to federal office candidates, national parties or national committees. The amounts would double for joint tax filers.
The Fond du Lac Republican said people used to be able to deduct campaign contributions from their taxes until 1986. He said he hopes by restoring the deductions, it will encourage liberals, conservatives and independents alike to donate to candidates.
“If you can finance your campaign with a lot of small contributions, it seems to me you’re less beholden to one particular contributor or political action committee or special interest,” Petri said in a phone interview with Northwestern Media.
Petri said the small dollar approach to campaign financing has been proven effective by candidates like President Barack Obama, whose campaign secured small-dollar donations from supporters around the country via the Internet.
He said encouraging more average citizens to donate would also, hopefully, compel them to pay more attention to campaigns and the political process.
“And if people do make a contribution, I think they’re more likely to follow the campaigns, the issues and the candidates more closely,” he said. “ I think this could help return the center of campaign gravity to individuals and reduce the pressure to court large donors, PACs and special interests.”
Petri, who has served Wisconsin’s Sixth Congressional District since 1979, said candidates who cannot self-fund multimillion campaigns face large bills for advertisements, mailers, travel and other expenses that often make large dollar fundraisers or courting special interests a necessity.
“There’s just no question almost every candidate in both parties have to put on fundraisers from time to time. Unless newspapers and TV stations start giving out free ads, it’s going to cost something,” he said. “I don’t think money automatically determines who wins an election, but if you don’t raise a certain amount, it’s harder to get your message out. This is a way to enable people to raise money in small contributions.”