Taxation Without Representation: How Big Money in Politics Erodes Our Nation’s Fundamental Principles
How the 28th Amendment will provide a more level playing field for all American citizens.
Our nation’s initial “taxation without representation” cry arose as the 13 colonies launched what would be a successful revolt against Great Britain. After overcoming the British in the Revolutionary War and establishing the United States of America, these revolutionary leaders later incorporated limited taxation rights into the U.S. Constitution—to “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”
While federal tax policy has evolved and expanded considerably since the Constitution was established, the concept of “taxation without representation” remains central to America’s democratic founding. Throughout U.S. history, that cry has emerged in other contexts, most recently from citizens who see their interests outweighed by big-money donors who use their heavy influence to steer our country’s political agenda and tax policy.
Unchecked political spending by corporations, unions, special interest groups, and wealthy individuals creates an unbalanced system where donors’ interests outweigh the wishes of the majority of citizens. This runs counter to the wishes of most U.S. citizens: a recent Pew Research Center study finds, 74% of Americans say it is very important that major political donors not have more influence than others. Yet three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans believe big donors command more influence than others, and studies find that indeed ordinary citizens do not have significant influence over policy outcomes.
Tax policy that appears to benefit wealthier individuals and corporations—for example: Amazon’s $0 federal tax bill—also is seen as a primary reason for growing inequity in America, according to another Pew Research Center poll. That poll also shows that about a fifth of Americans say tax laws that favor the rich are the primary reason why the U.S. has a growing wealth gap between the minority few and the majority have nots.
Those calling for change to the system see an uphill battle, thanks to big-money donors looking to maintain the status quo. They contribute to entrenched politicians from both major parties who are able to draw boundaries for congressional and legislative districts that give themselves or their party an advantage. And it will take public advocacy to create change, as in its review of two partisan gerrymandering cases earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that shaping political districts for partisan benefit is a political question that courts have no role in reviewing.
Amid this dysfunctional system, the 28th Amendment will reaffirm—in several ways—that we the people gain fair representation and govern the United States of America rather than big-money interests. The amendment could:
- Authorize reasonable spending limits for political campaigns, rebalancing the system after Supreme Court rulings striking down federal and state campaign finance laws.
- Serve as a way to protect individual rights and establish rules to prevent elected officials from drawing unfair maps.
- Clarify that corporations and other non-human legal entities don’t have the same free speech and other rights protected by the Constitution, preventing them from using “corporate personhood” to overturn corporate political spending bans and other democratically enacted laws.
Citizen leaders with American Promise and other democracy reform organizations know it’s time to demand fair representation and restore the promise of our democracy through the movement for the 28th Amendment.