OUCH!: Tax Cuts for Campaign Contributors

On February 8, President George W. Bush sent his plan to Congress to cut $1.6 trillion in taxes over 10 years, saying that, "We must give overcharged taxpayers some of their own money back," and "We must give low-income families fairer treatment."

Yet critics charge that his plan benefits the wealthy disproportionately over those families over those with little money. The top one percent of the population with the highest incomes would receive 43 percent of the tax cut, according to Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), while the tax cut for the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers would be only $227 a year. In fact, those in the top one percent of earners nationwide would receive an average tax reduction of $46,000, says CTJ.

Meanwhile, some 12.2 million low-and moderate-income families with children would not receive any tax cut at all, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center also argues that Bush's plan would cost more than stated -- more like $2.1 trillion -- because the Bush estimate does not include the cost of federal interest payments.

Should this really be a surprise? After all, Bush's campaign for the presidency was funded by the wealthiest of Americans. Two-thirds of Bush's campaign donations came from donors who gave at least $1,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. We know from academic studies that four-fifths of donors of at least $200 to congressional campaigns have family incomes of $100,000 or more; nearly half have family incomes of more than $250,000. Undoubtedly, donors who give at least $1,000 are concentrated even higher on the income scale.

Bush's roster of 214 "pioneers," the volunteer fundraisers who raised at least $100,000 for his campaign, is a who's who of corporate executives in the top income brackets, such as Charles Cawley, CEO of MBNA National Bank, who made $5 million in salary and bonuses alone in 1999, Anthony J. Alexander, president of FirstEnergy Corp., who made more than $700,000 in salaries and bonuses that year, and Maurice R. Greenberg, CEO & Chair of the American International Group, who made $6 million, and whose fortune is estimated at $4.4 billion by Forbes Magazine.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on from special interests to add a long list of corporate tax benefits to the Bush tax plan. Bush lunched yesterday with 22 business executives who want a reduction in the corporate income tax rate along with other changes to the tax code. Business groups distributed nearly half a billion dollars to Republican candidates and party committees in the 2000 elections; they will be tough for either Bush or the Republican Congress to ignore.

(Not that Democrats, who got $340 million from business interests in the 2000 campaign, are going to be slamming the door on too many corporate lobbyists.)

Overall, in the 2000 elections, about 232,000 people out of 206 million people of voting age gave a contribution of $1,000 or more to federal candidates, Republicans and Democrats combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This is just 0.11 percent of the voting age population.

When politicians are beholden to that tiny a group of people, producing a fair tax plan that benefits everybody seems like an impossible dream.

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