Written by Jeff Johnson on July 22, 2009. Posted in General

We should all thank Pawlenty for axing the Political Contribution Refund program

Last month, Governor Pawlenty killed the Minnesota political contribution refund (“PCR”) program as part of his budget-balancing unallotment.  Although I used that program quite effectively for six years as a candidate for both the Minnesota House and Attorney General, I’m happy to see it go.

Unfortunately, there are already groups attempting to revive this program in the upcoming legislative session.

The PCR law provided that every Minnesota taxpayer could give $50 to the state office-seeker or political party of his or her choice and be fully reimbursed by the state.  All you had to do was write your check, mail in a receipt from the recipient of your contribution and you would soon receive a reimbursement check from the State of  Minnesota.  In other words, you chose who received a $50 contribution and the rest of Minnesota’s taxpayers would ante up for that choice.

Unsurprisingly, this law, which cost taxpayers about $10 million per year, was the only one of its kind in the nation.

The PCR was created several years ago by the DFL legislature, purportedly to increase individual contributions to campaigns.  No doubt a secondary purpose was to increase individual  contributions to DFL campaigns in particular.  I suppose in a twisted sort of way one could argue that the law did increase individual contributions.  In reality, however, individuals weren’t actually contributing, the taxpayers as a whole were.

When I gave $50 to my State Senator for her campaign, for example, and then received a refund from the state, I was not contributing to her campaign, the government (aka the taxpayer) was.  These were not individual contributions, they were government subsidies to politicians.

The concept of this program is akin to increasing volunteerism in Minnesota by allowing each of us to pick a project for which we want to volunteer – say a tutoring project for children – and then mandate a paid government employee to do the tutoring for us. 

What a rewarding experience.

Interestingly, the DFL, which passed the law over the objections of many Republicans in the legislature at the time, usually came up on the short end of this stick.  At least in recent years, contribution records showed that Republican candidates took greater advantage of the refund program than Democratic candidates.

Consequently, any attempts to revive the program next year should fail.  Since the Democrats who initially passed the law generally suffered at its hands and the Republicans who initially opposed it purportedly did so on the basis of principle, the push to resurrect this silly little law should be doomed.

We can only hope.

NEXT WEEK: July’s Golden Fire Hydrant
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