Political Payments Explained

This week, I was copied on an e-mail that a faithful BDN reader sent to about 20 people. A number of the co-recipients were prominent Maine politicians, and several of the other names appeared to be his family.

Here's part of what he wrote, "I just noted the Federal Election Commission has raised the limits on campaign contribution to candidates and political parties committees as an inflation adjustment for the next election cycle. As an individual on social security I was informed because there was no inflation last year ... and there would be no increases in social security benefits this year. Well, what is it, 0 percent as declared by the Social Security Administration, or the 4.166 percent inflation increase adjustment declared by the Federal Election Commission for politicians?"

If anyone got back to him, they didn't "reply all" because it didn't reach the rest of us.

Seeing no response from his elected officials, I thought this faithful reader deserved a larger audience for his outrage at the double standard he so adeptly exposed.

And for Charlie -- his name is Charlie -- I looked for some answers. According to the Federal Election Commission, those cost-of-living increases in donation amounts are automatic. The law mandates the increases happen every odd year, no matter what the economy actually does. The new limits are $2,500 for candidates or $30,800 to national party committees.

But really, Charlie, you shouldn't worry your pretty senior head about the contributions. That increased donation won't affect you because on your miserly Social Security income you can't afford to be a maximum donor anyway.

Because I don't know your finances, Charlie, I did a little research on the Internet to see what the average Social Security recipient is facing and just pictured you as that guy.

If you're ordinary, Newsweek says you get $1,170 each month as your benefit payment. AARP says that even though more than 10 million seniors have nothing to live on but Social Security, the average senior adds to his or her income by about 20 percent each month from what was basically his or her life's savings.

That's still less than 1,500 bucks a month, Charlie. So you're not going to donate more than six weeks' pay to a candidate or almost two years' pay to a national party committee this year.

Charlie, practically speaking, you don't matter. Congress would have to double your Social Security to get you to even consider maxing out on a political contribution and really, they have much bigger fish to fry.

Charlie, remember Citizens United? This is from the FEC website. It'll put into perspective why no candidates or elected officials got back to you in your semipublic forum, "In Citizens United v. FEC, issued on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court held that the prohibitions in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) against corporate spending on independent expenditures or electioneering communications are unconstitutional."

Poof! No need for cost-of-living increases on limits now. No limits! If someone's got gobs of money, it can all go to engineer any election he chooses. Well, that won't do you much good, Charlie. You're on Social Security. But if you were the CEO of a Wall Street bank or defense contractor, imagine the fun you'd be having.

But Charlie, that's not all. That zero inflation rate has got to be sticking in your craw. Our high unemployment has wages down, and I'm sure you know the price of yachts has plummeted during the past two years. And travelmole.com says the cost of a cruise is off a whopping 11 percent.

But after you pay your rent, you're probably thinking about food and heat, not yachts. Sadly, Charlie, those two are way up. If the crumbling prices of extravagances and all those unemployed neighbors of yours hadn't flattened the inflation statistics, you might have seen an increase of 2 or 3 percent. That's what the Consumer Price Index says your food costs will increase by this year, and the Energy Information Administration says you'll pay about 20 percent more for heat this winter.

Maybe that's why Wall Street-financed politicos aren't talking about Social Security's zero inflation much -- because a simple Web search and a little common sense prove what liars they'd have to be.