Does This Ohio Democrat Have the 'Write Off' Stuff?

Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is exploiting the fact that political donations in his state are tax deductible.

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Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald delivers the State of the County speech at The City Club of Cleveland Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, in Cleveland. FitzGerald is considering a 2014 challenge to Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Ohio Democratic gubernational candidate Ed Fitzgerald

As fundraising pitches go, Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's year-end email solicitation is something of a humdinger. In it voters are urged to make a $50 contribution (or $100 for those filing jointly) to the campaign before the end of the year in order to "take advantage of an Ohio tax credit" that's allows them to write it off.

FitzGerald, the chief executive of populous Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, has a tough row to hoe in his campaign to wrest the governorship away from incumbent Republican John Kasich. Despite a couple of missteps that have irritated the GOP's conservative base, Kasich is the odds-on favorite to win a second term.

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Whatever else FitzGerald's fundraising appeal may be, it is also highly inappropriate. The idea of publically financed political campaigns is long past its expiration date. Nonetheless, the Democrats in Ohio feel unperturbed about asking taxpayers to help them pay for their efforts to win back the governorship. "Help us, and help you" the message reads. Please help underwrite the cost of my attempt to become the state's next governor while potentially taking tax receipts away from programs to care for the needy, fund education, rebuild and maintain infrastructure and all the other programs on which my campaign says we should be spending more.

The tax credit, which was no doubt put in place by well-meaning knotheads who thought it would help "democratize" the financing of state campaigns, ought to be repealed. While it is the law, at least for the moment, the fact that a candidate for public office would be so brazen as to design a fundraising appeal around the fact that contributions up to a certain amount are essentially tax deductible suggests a lack of seriousness about what is best for the state.

It also suggests, at least to those whose cynicism has been sharpened by the decline of American politics over the last decade or so, that the Democrats may be having trouble raising money and have decided they need a reason other than the candidate to get potential contributors to give. More than anything else, it's a sad commentary of the state of politics outside Washington, D.C., where the political class has honed fundraising appeals to an art form.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

It's worth considering, especially in the wake of the United States Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, that not enough money is being spent on political campaigns. It is certainly true, as those who follow elections closely know, that much of what is being spent is not being well spent and does more to enrich consultants than to elect candidates. Still, less money is spent on U.S. campaigns for office than is spent in a single year advertising snack foods. Is this really the kind of system we want to perpetuate by imposing new limits on contributions and new limits on the First Amendment rights of organizations to state opinions on television, on radio and on the Internet about the votes and positions taken by candidates for office? Next to more regulation, the last thing anyone needs is to find new and more creative ways to have the government finance the campaigns of people running for office which, after all, is what providing tax credits to contributors does.

UPDATE: Politicians in Ohio from both parties send fundraising appeals tied to the tax credit available under state law, an observation that should have been included in the above piece. Nevertheless, the law places taxpayers in the position of indirectly supporting candidates with whom they may disagree and should be repealed.

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