Taxation Without Representation

04/15/2015 08:53 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

Today, millions of Americans will begrudgingly pay their taxes to a government that does not inspire confidence. With public trust in government at near historic lows, many Americans believe that their elected representatives don't care what the average citizen thinks.

Unfortunately, they're right.

For the vast majority of Americans, "taxation without representation" isn't just a relic of high school social studies -- it's a perfect description of their relationship with a political system that's been thoroughly corrupted by money.

A 2014 Princeton University study comparing 1,779 policy outcomes to more than 20 years of public opinion data found that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." When you compare what the public wants to what the government actually does, it turns out that our opinions have essentially no impact.

But, there's a catch. The same study did manage to find one portion of American society that's doing quite well in the representation department: economic elites and business interests. In the last 5 years, the 200 most politically active companies in the US spent $5.8 billion influencing our government with lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support -- earning a return of 750 times their investment. If you can afford to buy access, times have never been better.

Now for the good news: the fight to take back our Republic is already underway. This Tax Day, volunteers across the country are launching a wave of campaigns to pass local and state laws based on model legislation called the American Anti-Corruption Act. These tough, new laws will protect their communities from the casual corruption that's running rampant in Washington, DC.

The local approach probably seems counterintuitive at first glance, especially given the sorry state of affairs at the Federal level, but it's already paying dividends. The first city-wide Anti-Corruption Act in the United States has already passed in Tallahassee Florida, and just last/this week, volunteers with Represent Rockford won campaigns for Anti-Corruption Resolutions in two Illinois counties with an astonishing 87% of the vote.

The promise of a local-first strategy is best embodied by two of the most successful political issues of our era: marriage equality and marijuana legalization. Regardless your position on those issues, the political successes both movements have achieved over the past two decades are impossible to deny. They've managed to move the needle nationally by taking the fight local - one city and state at a time.

The anti-corruption movement is following the same playbook. In many cases, things at the state and local level are just as bad as they are in Washington. For example, when Represent Boston volunteers began pushing members of the Cambridge city council to implement new anti-corruption laws, many councilors reacted with scorn and disbelief. But, as one Cambridge resident pointed out in public testimony (directly to their faces), the council has a track record of siding with local real estate developers who just happen to be major political donors as well.

In Cambridge, as in so many other cities and states across the country, many politicians see their financial dependence on special interests as completely normal. It's up to the People to call it what it is: Corruption. And that's exactly what's happening in cities and states across the country.

More than a dozen new city and statewide anti-corruption campaigns are on the way in 2015 and 2016. There are more than 23,000 municipalities and 27 states where we can bypass entrenched local legislatures and put tough, new anti-corruption laws on the ballot, so citizens can vote on them directly, which means this movement isn't slowing down anytime soon.

Our government already has taxation covered. A little more representation is long overdue.

Theodore Roosevelt IV Roosevelt is an investment banker and a conservationist. Currently he is the Chair of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions sits on the Board of Advisors of Represent.Us.

Josh Silver is Director of Represent.Us, a national, nonpartisan anti-corruption organization.