Lawmakers Try to Pay Down the National Debt, $200 at a Time

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Publicizing such contributions through press releases can send a more effective message to constituents, since it isn't paired with congressional salaries or expenditure allowances as it is in the statement of disbursement, said Chadwick. Members of Congress make significantly more money than the average American (the median American income is $49,777, according to the 2009 U.S. Census Bureau), so these donations may seem more significant in a standalone press release that doesn't divulge other financial information, Chadwick said.

House Members' Donations Look Like a Lot Only When Compared With the Average American's Salary

"If you look at how much the average American makes, and these donations, it looks like a lot of money," said Chadwick. But if you look how much Congress members make and the federal budget, you can see it's not even making a dent to either."

Walz said he discloses his contributions purely for the purpose of transparency. "I don't want to sound self righteous on this," he said. "I just want to set an example. I'm proud of what I'm doing, but I don't want to be seen as the 'look at me, look at what I'm doing.' The theme for me is the transparency and the openness and doing my part."

Congress passed the law in 1961 that allows citizens to donate funds to the U.S. to reduce the country's deficit. In 2010, more than $2.8 million has been donated to the fund to help ease the $1.3 trillion deficit.

Chadwick said the main reason politicians make these donations -- and disclose them -- is because it looks good to their constituents, not because it will have any effect n the national debt. "It's a symbolic gesture," Chadwick said. "I think that's the main reason to do it. It's probably the only reason they do it. And it does make a nice press release: 'Member X donated 10 percent of their salary to the debt.''

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