Responsible Wealth Members Call B.S. on Bachmann

After Warren Buffett called for the federal government to raise taxes on the super wealthy this week, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann had a suggestion for the billionaire: Send any unwanted money to the U.S. Treasury. 

“Mr. Buffett, write a big check today,” Bachmann said. “There’s nothing you have to wait for.” 

The Minnesota congresswoman is correct. The federal government has had a law on the books for 50 years that allows anyone to open up his checkbook, write out a donation payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt, and send it to a post office box in Parkersburg, W.Va. — or make an online payment at

Through the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, Americans had donated about $2 million to the fund — compared with $2.8 million in donations for all of fiscal 2010. 

That amounts to roughly one ten-thousandth of a percent— that is, 0.0001% — of the federal debt.

The money is set aside and ultimately used to pay the principal on maturing Treasury bills that are issued as debt to finance government operations, according to McKayla Braden, spokeswoman for the debt bureau.

“We send everybody a thank you,” Braden said, noting that the agency gets more donations whenever there’s a public crisis like a natural disaster or the summer deadlock than over raising the debt ceiling.

But millionaires and billionaires who, like Buffett, support higher taxes on the super-rich, say voluntary donations won’t solve the country’s debt problems. Even Buffett’s fortune of approximately $50 billion amounts to less than half a percent of the total. 

“It’s better to have a policy than to just bank on individual, idiosyncratic discretion,” said Judy Pigott, a Seattle heiress to a trucking fortune. She is also a member of Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, which advocates for raising taxes on those who earn more than $1 million a year. 

“We all benefit from being part of our country ... and those of us who have abundant financial resources also have abundant privileges,” Pigott said. 

Relying on voluntary donations wouldn’t bring in a reliable amount of money that could match revenue from raising taxes across the board, said Lee Farris, a tax policy coordinator for United for a Fair Economy. 

A subgroup of that organization, Responsible Wealth, focuses on raising taxes on the wealthy.

“I’m sure Rep. Bachmann would probably not agree that all people who owe money to the U.S. Treasury should make voluntary contributions,” said Responsible Wealth member John Russell, a real estate developer in Portland, Ore. “There’s a fundamental issue of fairness, and nobody wants to be treated in a manner that’s different than other people.”

Read the full column by Ashley Kindergan on

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