Sunday, October 10, 1999

Kids spending allowances on political campaigns?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        We remember payday back when we were kids, the one day of the week when the old man would come home flush and start doling out allowances.

        Three bucks. Three crisp, clean pictures of George Washington, legal tender for all debts, public and private.

        We loved payday.

        Of course, you had to be careful how you spent those three simoleons, because once they were gone, it was a dicey thing trying to get any more. You probably would, but you'd have to stand there and take it while he blew off steam, hiking up his trousers and muttering about how you were nickel-and-diming him to death.

        Fortunately, in those days, three bucks could go far. It could buy you:

        • Six to eight packs of baseball cards (the Frank Robinson cards would go into safekeeping; the Joe Pignatanos would end up in your spokes, making your bicycle sound like an off-balance washing machine).

        • Several bottles of Mountain Dew out of the vending machine at the Sohio station;

        • A big bag of Mikesell's Green Onion Potato Chips.

        • At least a half dozen Marvel comic books, some of which would now be worth thousands had your mother not thrown them away when you went off to college.

        Do you know some way to have more fun with $3 today? If so, we'd like to hear about it.

        We tried to invest our limit ed resources wisely. It would not have occurred to us to take part of our sort-of hard-earned dollars and give them to a politician.

        Politicians, after all, were the people who made our old man's neck turn red and made him do strange things like ball up his socks and bounce them off the TV screen whenever they came on.

        We didn't really think they needed our money.

        Apparently, times have changed.

        Last week, the Enquirer reported that children and high school and college students around the country have given $7.4 million to federal candidates in the past eight years. In Ohio, kids have contributed $48,000 to state campaigns since 1995.

        One 13-year-old in Cincinnati, the son of Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman H.C. Buck Niehoff, has given $28,275 to state and federal candidates, starting when he was 5 months old. The boy's generosity has extended to everyone from Ohio Gov. Bob Taft to George W. Bush to former Sen. Al D'Amato of New York.

        Mr. Taft, it seems, has been as popular with the younger set as Barney the dinosaur or Britney Spears. About 40 percent of the money contributed to candidates in Ohio since 1995 went to Mr. Taft's 1998 gubernatorial campaign, including a 5-year-old girl in Akron who chipped in $1,000.

        Now, we know there are parents out there who are serious about making sure their children grow up to be good citizens, who try to foster an interest in politics and democratic government and who encourage their kids to get involved. We know that.

        We also know that, in state and federal elections, there are legal limits on what one person can give to a candidate — $2,500 in state races, $1,000 in federal elections.

        And we know, too, that there are deep-pocketed campaign contributors out there who believe that $1,000 or even $2,500 is not nearly enough moola to spread around.

        So, if Dad writes a check for $2,500 to a candidate; and Mom writes a check for $2,500 to the same candidate, what's to stop the folks from dipping into the kids' trust funds or bank accounts to write more $2,500 checks? Nothing in state or federal law.

        Mr. Taft came to the Enquirer editorial board Wednesday and was asked if he knew exactly what public policy position or ideological belief that 5-year-old in Akron was trying to express when she cut his campaign a check for $1,000.

        He could not, although he said that he is “sure there are abuses.”

        When it was suggested to Mr. Taft that if children can give money to political campaigns, maybe they ought to be allowed to vote too, the governor seemed to think that was a silly idea.

        Maybe. But if you were a 13-year-old coughing up your allowance for a politician, you might not think so.

        Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at


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