The most misunderstood question on the tax return

The IRS Form 1040 has a lot of confusing and misunderstood questions; this should come as no surprise to anybody. But what I frequently find surprising is how poorly people understand this question:

Ask yourself two questions: Do you like the influence that private, large campaign donors have over the Presidential election? Do you like how Congress is spending your tax dollars?

My guess is most Americans would answer No to both questions. And so logically, you would think that most Americans, or at least a very large number of them, would support measures that take money out of the control of Congress and put it into a fund for candidates who DON’T take money from large donors that might want “special favors” from the candidate once in office.

Interestingly, that’s exactly what the Presidential Election Campaign fund does. By checking this box on your tax return (or in your software for the majority of people who never even see a paper Form 1040 anymore), you’re taking $3 out of the “general fund” that can be spent however Congress wants to, and it puts it into a fund for Presidential candidates who agree to abide by certain campaign funding rules.

Surprisingly, only a little over 10% of taxpayers check this box.

I think there are numerous reasons for this. Many people assume the $3 is being added on to their tax bill (like when grocery stores ask you for a $1 at check-out for a special cause)…and most people aren’t feeling particularly giving when they’re already contemplating their tax bill. Most people simply don’t know what the fund is. And for people who use tax professionals, it’s just one more question the professional has to cover, so frequently it’s just ignored.

So it’s just something to keep in mind. You do, in a very, very small way, have a little bit of control over where your tax dollars are going. So now you know, and can make your decision.


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