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Our Tax Dollars at Play


Manchester, New Hampshire -- Here we are, three more or less legitimate newspaper writers seated among a small army of New Alliance Party factota, taking party chairman Lenora Fulani's rant about her enemies in the FBI, the IRS, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the PRA. (You can make it to the end of this column without knowing who they are.) Not for the first time, Fulani & Co. have fired off a furious letter to FBI Director William Sessions demanding . . .

Cut! Cut! Cut! Sorry to take away the microphone, Ms. Fulani. But after all, I paid for it.

And so did you, gentle reader. Lenora Fulani, a 41-year-old black psychologist from Harlem, is running for president, and we have paid more than $700,000 of her expenses. Ms. Fulani, a political ally of the Rev. Al Sharpton and editor of "The Psychopathology of Everyday Racism and Sexism," collected more than $900,000 in federal matching funds during her 1988 campaign, when she reportedly garnered 250,000 votes, or about .2 percent of all ballots cast.

Is now the time to mention that the New Alliance Party, which has been running candidates in New York elections since 1986, has never won an election?

Although she will not be getting my vote, Ms. Fulani's hyper-left, "anti-Zionist," pro-gay, "progressive" movement ("We are not a cult" is a refrain one hears a lot around New Alliance headquarters) doesn't disturb me per se. After all, political nonentity Douglas Wilder of Virginia sucked in $290,000 of federal money before he bugged out of the race. What does disturb me is the disbursement of ever-increasing wads of taxpayers' money into presidential campaign coffers -- over vehement public disapproval.

Remember the Constitution? American citizens delegate the country's financial management to their elected representatives. You may not like paying for golf tees on board Air Force Two, or for B-1 bombers, but you don't have any choice; the tax return is not a referendum on government spending. Actually, you do have a choice, and it's called incarceration, as generations of heroic tax resisters have learned the hard way.

But the American public does have one line-item veto: the $1 presidential campaign donation on the 1040 tax form. Enacted by a Democratic Congress in the wake of huge Republican fund-raising in the 1968 election, public financing of presidential campaigns gained support during the Watergate decade of the 1970s. Donations peaked in 1980, when 30 percent of American taxpayers contributed $41 million toward the quadrennial circus.

Since then, taxpayers have soured on the checkoff, even though they are constantly reminded that subsidizing Ms. Fulani's anti-FBI tirades does not increase their taxes. In tax year 1990, only about 20 percent of taxpayers kicked in just over $32 million. The message was clear: Billions for defense, not a penny more for jive. Presidential campaign financing is one of the few issues on which the people have spoken. Unfortunately, no one is listening.

How have our elected representatives interpreted the people's will? By ignoring it, of course. While taxpayers shun the fund, Congress has increased the per-party payout for presidential primaries, conventions and campaigns from $20 million to $55 million in 19 years. Instead of doing the honorable thing -- cutting back payments to both major and minor party candidates -- the Federal Election Commission is now cranking up a public-relations campaign to increase participation in the checkoff and to lobby for raising the donation above the $1 limit.

Inevitably, this kind of flackery comes under the rubric of "educating" the electorate. But you don't need a college degree to figure this one out. Vote for whomever you want in November; Ms. Fulani is certainly no worse than several of the so-called major candidates. But on April 15, just keep saying no. Otherwise, you'll only encourage them.

Alex Beam is a Boston Globe columnist.

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