Forty-five people have signed a letter to President Obama asking him to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of this year. The president gets many letters like that. But what was unusual about this petition was who signed it -- including the Grammy Award-nominated DJ, MOBY, as well as Jerry Cohen of Ben-and-Jerry's-Ice-Cream fame.
All the signatories happen to be millionaires -- who stand to lose financially if they get their way.
"The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength" wrote a 155-word letter saying they hope their taxes will increase beginning in January. Its text is posted at FiscalStrength.com. It says:
"For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled. We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more."
The millionaires say they were not surreptitiously funded by a labor party but that they organized of their own volition, with coordination by the political strategy group the Agenda Project.
"This is not an orchestrated campaign," said Erica Payne, founder of the Agenda Project. Payne said a few of the signatories with whom she's familiar contacted her and asked for her help in coordinating the millionaires. Payne said the White House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif,) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), among other elected officials, began receiving the letter last Monday and are "aware" of the petition.
Senate Democrats announced Friday that they will introduce a bill next month that will extend tax breaks for many individuals and businesses. If those tax cuts extend to the middle class, Payne, who said the millionaires' campaign is advocating for the economic health of the entire country, said that would be "one win under the belt."
"Only 375,000 Americans have income over $1 million," said Payne. "You're asking a small number of people to recognize that our country is in part responsible for their prosperity."
When asked why he signed the petition instead of cutting a check to the causes of his choice, Princeton Review founder John Katzman said, "no one wants to be the chump."
Katzman said another signatory and friend sent him the letter last week and asked him to sign it, to which he said it was "obvious" that he would sign it. He said the pre-tax cut era was a "perfectly reasonable" environment" to do business. And he is especially disturbed by the deficit that is over a trillion dollars.
"The notion that we're going to set up a system that, in effect, is a tax on our kids, and then look to random good hearted people to step up and close that gap is silly," said Katzman. "We need systemically to create a tax code that pays the bills."
Ryan Ellis, tax policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, said he is skeptical of the political motivations of the "Patriotic Millionaires" group, of which he was surprised to hear.
"I think this group doesn't speak to anything close to the majority of small business owners," said Ellis.
Mark Muller, the owner of a car dealership in Butler, Mo., said he is against any kind of tax hike and that true patriotism is related to freedom.
"It's about basic freedom, and we are losing our freedom every day to taxes and the government," said Muller. "If I thought I could give an extra $10,000 a year to solve this country's problems, I would be the first one to write a check. But they're going to squander it and waste it."
Muller said he is "blessed and so thankful" for all he has, but he is concerned about the future tax burdens on his three children in college, if they pursue small businesses of their own.
"I'm going to be fine and I'm going to survive, but how about my kids?" asked Muller, who said the decisions of small business owners are greatly hampered by environmental and property taxes and regulations.
Muller said that further income and small business tax hikes will prevent an employer from hiring a new employee or buying new equipment, already "teetering" on the decision.
Michael Steinhart, a philanthropist and former hedge fund manager, said he signed the document because he is concerned with the growing imbalance between the rich and poor and he does not believe that the idea of allowing tax cuts for the wealthy will benefit lower-income people
"One of America's greatest strengths is a growing and powerful middle class. They are not that at the moment," said Steinhart. "There has been too much in the way of tax benefits that have been singularly directed toward the wealthy. And you cannot have a healthy society when the wealthy have greater access to political influence and often get extraordinary tax benefits."