Time to wash

Quite an experience today. I went to a “meet the candidates” event and talked with a few voters. While there I ran into a flunkie for a prominent elected official. In a fairly brief conversation, the flunkie offered to help me raise money for my campaign. The offer seemed genuine and I suspect this person would indeed be able to help me raise significant money.

However, I am quite confident that the motives for helping me are the wrong motives. This is not to help me in my campaign, but rather to get back at someone else. Combined with my strong feelings of dislike for the official, this was quite unpleasant. I was quite clear in rejecting the help. As I told my wife and also a close friend, I would never be able to wash myself enough. My wife tells me this is why I’ll never make it as a politician. I’d rather earn money in my law practice and other business ventures and spend some of my own money the next time.

I’m not opposed to soliciting campaign contributions, by the way. I see nothing wrong with it at all. Maybe I should think about it. My gut is that it couldn’t be enough to make my campaign a winner — it would have to be more than $500K, and I don’t think that’s possible. How much money would this official have to raise for me before it would be worth it? Comments appreciated.

McNulty’s campaign reform

In his debate response, McNulty indicated he is a cosponsor of the “Clean Money, Clean Elections” bill in Congress. I think he’s referring to HR 3099. This bill has done nothing in Congress since July of 2005, so again we can see how effective McNulty is in Congress.

Turning to the content of this bill, it does not include free postage for candidates. It gives free broadcast time to candidates: 30 minutes in primaries and 75 in general elections. That includes both TV and radio, and it works out to 60 ads of 30 seconds in primaries and 150 ads in a general election. Radio spots are usually 60 seconds, so it’s only 30 spots and 75 spots. I spent $25K on TV and radio in 2004, and that bought a lot more than 150 spots. My district has the advantage of being in only one media market. Many districts cover multiple media markets, so the free TV would be dramatically reduced for candidates in such districts. The 20th district (Sweeney, Gillibrand and Sundwall) for example has 3 different media markets – Albany, Plattsburg, and NYC. [Correction -- 4 media markets -- I believe parts of Delaware and maybe Otsego are in the Binghamton market.]

Candidates would also receive campaign funds, but there’s a complicated formula to determine how much, and I think if you read that carefully, it will become apparent that it’s not a lot of money. If I read it right, in a primary election you get 32% of the “base amount” – the amount expended by the average winning candidate in nationwide over the last 3 election cycles. Sounds good until you realize that many incumbents run unopposed, and many others face no significant challenge. The average might well turn out to be about $100K, so the typical candidate might get only $32K for a primary. It’s 48% for a general election, so that would work out to $48K. If the base amount was the average of winning challengers, rather than winning candidates overall, that would mean a lot more money, but that’s not the proposal. It’s also unclear what counts as “expended”. Do McNulty’s contributions to local Dem committees, other parties, and such, count? At a quick look I don’t see a definition for that word in the bill.

It’s not enough money. Winning challengers almost always spend $1 million or more. Limiting challengers to even $200K ensures that challengers will be unable to get their message out. In NY there’s roughly 450,000 registered voters in a congressional district. It costs $100K to send one postcard to each registered voter. It takes money for candidates to get their message out.

Note that both proposals offer less money for primaries. Since most districts are gerrymandered, the most competitive races are often in primaries (see Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman). Giving less for primaries is designed to make those elections less competitive.

To get the benefits of the bill, candidates either have to be from a major party (i.e. Republican or Democrat), or that candidate must personally have gotten 25% of the vote in a previous election. Candidates who fit this must then get 1500 contributions of $5 each, presumable each of these from a different person. If you’re not from a major party, you need to get 2250 such contributions.

Any candidate who faces a challenge from a candidate spending beyond the “Clean Money” amounts would receive an amount to match the amount spent by this other candidate. In other words, if someone spends a lot of money on a race, the “clean money” candidate gets matching funds from the government.

This bill plainly favors incumbent Dems and Republicans to the detriment of challengers and third-party candidates. What a surprise that McNulty would support it. Incumbents will all take the “clean money” route. Challengers who stick with the “clean money” approach will be so limited in spending that they won’t be able to overcome the incumbent’s name recognition advantage. When an incumbent faces a challenger who spends more than the CM amounts, the incumbent will get free matching funds with no effort. Challengers will also have to jump through a variety of hoops to qualify for the benefits, while incumbents will have a campaign staff and party machine at the ready to make sure it gets done easily. Most challengers will fail to qualify and get no money at all after wasting a lot of time trying to jump through the hoops. And of course, third-party and independent candidates have even more hoops to jump through.

I challenge anyone to explain why this bill would improve the democratic process in America.

Reviewing Raleigh

As I mentioned in a very recent post, the Informed Constituent ran a print debate including myself, the incumbent, and his Dem primary challenger, Tom Raleigh. I reviewed McNulty’s positions in the previous post.

Now on to Raleigh:

1. Regarding restoring confidence of the people in their elected officials, Raleigh, like McNulty, supports campaign finance reform.
Also like McNulty, and other supporters of such “reforms”, he fails to explain how this will actually make a difference. It’s my firm position that past campaign finance reforms helped incumbents dramatically by making things more difficult for challengers. The proposed reforms will do so even more. The problem is not campaign finance, but various aspects of the election process that favor incumbents.
Raleigh also prophesizes that his campaign will shock the political system. So far the only shock looks to be the clobbering Raleigh will take in the primary since almost no one knows who he is and he has no clear message.

2. Asked what he would do to help working families, Raleigh discusses two issues: health care and fuel/energy.
On health care he calls for a “national health care strategy”, but fails to explain what that means in any substance. On his website he sort of says he’s for universal health care, but he’s still not clear on it.
On fuel and energy, he calls for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and shifting to renewable sources of energy. He does not explain how we’ll get there, either in the debate or on his website. He does oppose drilling in ANWR, a position all three of us share. Raleigh’s reasoning for that is identical to my own – it’s a strategic reserve, best left in the ground until we really need it.

3. On the balance between federal and state power, he says he supports States’ rights. Like McNulty, he fails to mention individual rights in his answer.

4. Regarding the “War on Terror”, he gives a lengthy answer. To summarize, he seems to say the war in Iraq was wrong, that we should work with other countries, use diplomatic and economic power, and develop our intelligence forces. I mostly agree with Raleigh on this, but think he doesn’t go far enough in withdrawing US troops from overseas in general. He still seems like an interventionist, but with a different approach from Bush & McNulty.

5. On the balance between security and liberty, Raleigh gives an empty answer, making vague comments like we must “tread very carefully” and “Congress must not be timid”.

6. On the “greatest challenge facing America”, he picks two. First he says “we must come together as a nation.” Next he says we must mend fences abroad. His only specific is on the second, saying we should limit the number of politically appointed ambassadors. Presumably he thinks ambassadors should be professional diplomats.
I don’t think he’s nuts on the ambassador thing, but if that’s what he thinks is the greatest challenge facing America today, he’s way out of tune with the American people.
Strangely, McNulty also said that restoring our international reputation is the greatest challenge. I think very, very few Americans are concerned about our international reputation.

7. On why voters should choose him, Raleigh says we need more military veterans in Congress. He pretty clearly implies that those without military experience cannot truly understand or appreciate the complexities of the post-911 world.
I respectfully disagree. As someone who hasn’t been suffocating in the US military bureaucracy for Raleigh’s 22 years, or in Congress for McNulty’s 18 years, I appreciate that the world was already complex before September 11, 2001.

One interesting thing about Raleigh’s responses is the length. His responses were more than double the length of mine, though he says fairly little in all of that space. McNulty’s responses were about the same length as mine, and I think he said more than Raleigh in that space. Between McNulty and Raleigh overall, I disagree strongly with many of McNulty’s answers, and some of his answers were dishonest. Raleigh said so little of substance in his responses that I don’t disagree with him as much, but then again I don’t really know where he stands. If I were voting in the primary, I’d vote for Raleigh, and I will encourage my Democrat friends to do so.

A touch more press

I’ll take what I can get. Rex Smith of the Times Union mentioned me in an editorial today. It’s a well-written, thoughtful piece on the reasons why a newspaper does or does not cover a campaign.

While I don’t like the conclusion, I understand. My only quibble is his description that I criticized the TU for not covering “my” campaign. My letter was a broader criticism than that. #1, I criticized their hypocrisy in calling on Sweeney and Gillibrand to discuss issues when the TU reports every mudsling in detail, while ignoring candidates who do talk about issues. And it wasn’t just about my campaign — I specifically mentioned the LP candidate in that district and the Democratic primary challenger in this district, referring to how they also talk about issues and don’t get coverage either.

Dissecting McNulty

The Informed Constituent ran a “print debate” on the 21st district, with responses from myself, Tom Raleigh, and the incumbent, Mike McNulty. They have fortunately put this content on their site, so anyone can read it here: Redlich McNulty Raleigh print debate.

In this post I will dissect McNulty’s responses. I’ll probably dissect Tom Raleigh’s responses in the future.

1. Regarding confidence of the people in their officials, McNulty’s short “what I would do” response was to enact “Clean Money Clean Elections” campaign reforms. As far as cleanliness goes, this is the same guy who funneled $35K of PAC money from his campaign to his brother. But more important, voters should understand that campaign reforms have consistently benefited incumbents. In the end they always make life more difficult for challengers. It’s not surprising that an incumbent would support such reforms. Incumbency reelection rates used to be in the 80s (i.e. 85% of incumbents would win reelection). Since the campaign finance reforms were passed, incumbency reelection rates have soared to 98% in 2004. Campaign finance reforms are bad for democracy.

2. On what he would do to help working families, he set out a laundry list:
a. Raise minimum wage
As I’ve previously posted, I’m opposed to any minimum wage. Read that post for more. McNulty’s position is not surprising since he’s a union hack, and minimum wage is a big union issue.

b. Repeal Bush tax cuts for millionaires; replace with tax deductibility for college tuition and other assistance to help working families.
This is classic liberal Democrat class warfare — McNulty wants to soak the so-called rich. He’s a phony on this. When you get down and take a good look at his voting record over the years, he consistently votes to raise taxes on anyone and everyone. National Taxpayers Union has consistently rated him one of the biggest tax and spend liberals in Washington for his entire 18 years in office. Repealing tax cuts is just another way for McNulty to spend more of our money.

c. Universal health care coverage
More of McNulty’s socialist ideology. Why is this an issue? Why not free food for everyone, or free housing, or free clothes? Why is it health care that has to be “universal”? The reality is that we don’t have a medical insurance system. We have a medical payment system. I don’t need insurance for a primary care visit, or for most of my family’s medical needs. If I was paying cash straight up, all of that would cost far less than the $13K+/year I’m paying for my family now (and we still have co-pays and deductibles).
People need insurance for big-ticket items like heart surgery and cancer. Car insurance doesn’t pay for routine maintenance. Why should health insurance? The real solution to the health care problems we’re having now is to allow for more high-deductible insurance options. Let me cover the first $5K or $10K with a medical IRA, and buy insurance in case my bills run higher than that in a given year. Our insurance market is so overregulated, thanks to the McNulty’s of the world, that such options are hard to find.
I don’t even want to start thinking about how much McNulty’s universal health care coverage would cost, but I’ll bet it’s hundreds of billions a year. And then we’ll all find out about rationing. We need more capitalism, not more socialism.

d. Repeal the “huge” tax cut for oil companies and develop clean, alternative sources of energy
Well, McNulty wants to raise taxes again — Of course, raising taxes on oil companies would increase the price of gasoline, but most people enjoy paying more for gas. Develop alternative energy? 18 years in Congress and the guy’s done nothing about this.

e. Something about a bill for “Family and Workplace Balancing”
This sounds like just another way to make life more difficult for employers. As an employer, I understand how difficult it is to create jobs. McNulty wants to make it even harder.

3. On the balance between federal and state power, McNulty says the feds “should not overrule more progressive State laws, but should have the right to expand civil rights for all.
Liar, liar, pants on fire! McNulty has consistently voted opposite of this on abortion and gay marriage.

4. On the “war on terror”, McNulty says the Bush policies have been an abject failure. He says he wants a timetable and immediately begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. He says some other vacuous pandering things like that we should honor our veterans.
Of course we should honor our veterans! McNulty dishonored them when he voted for the war in Iraq. Now he’s completely ducking his responsibility for the war. McNulty voted for the Bush policies. Voters should remember this.

5. On national security and civil liberties, he gives a mostly vague answer and then brags on voting “NO” on the 2005 Patriot Act Reauthorization.
He neglects to mention that he voted “YES” on the original Patriot Act. McNulty makes Kerry look consistent.

6. On the “greatest challenge facing America”, McNulty says it’s “restoring our international reputation” and that electing a Democratic Congress is the answer.
I could make a list of 10 things that are far more important than our international reputation. And I’m quite sure that more partisanship is not the answer to that problem anyway.

7. This question asked why voters should choose him “over all others”. He throws some more BS, and brags about endorsements from special interest. He also throws in the following: “In the last national survey b the AP, my district ranked 45th highest out of all 435 in the receipt of federal funding.”
McNulty’s been bragging about that survey since it came out … 5 years ago … based on data that was from a couple years earlier. The Times Union, in a Page One story on 8/10, quoted McNulty uncritically on that a week or so ago, and the Troy Record misquoted him as #2 in the country during the 2004 race. Also, the district lines changed in 2002, so it’s not the same district. And I haven’t noticed any bridges to nowhere in the Capital Region, so what’s this really measure? It measures receipt of all federal funds. We get a lot of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security money in the Capital Region, but the big money is funds from the feds to the state governments, and that money comes to Albany because that’s where the state government is. McNulty has nothing to do with that money coming here. I hate to give Pataki credit for anything, but if credit for this goes anywhere, it goes to Pataki. Then again, I don’t really want to give anyone credit for a porkfest.

In case any journalists read this blog, I hope you will call McNulty on this bogus statistic. Make him back it up — give you a copy of the survey and make him explain why this is something he should get credit for.

More on Social Security

The Wall Street Journal has a great editorial on Social Security in Tuesday’s (8/22/06) paper. It discusses criticism of the current system. Some suggest that we will either go bankrupt trying to pay the benefits coming down the road, or we’ll have to impose a horribly high tax rates in order to pay them. The latter scenario doesn’t really work because extremely high tax rates would devastate productivity and we’d never have enough to pay the benefits.

The WSJ pooh-poohs these concerns with the reassurance that at some point benefits will be cut so it won’t be such a big problem. Benefit cuts is not the answer today’s seniors want to hear. I offered a better way out of the Social Security mess on a recent blog post. The WSJ also hints that private accounts would somehow make a difference, but they don’t explain this in any way.

I’m sure many are uncomfortable with my proposal to let people opt out. But if you compare it to the nightmare scenarios we’re facing under the current system, it’s gotta be better.

McNulty’s hypocrisy on Iraq

I just noticed this post on Democracy in Albany, the second part of an interview with incumbent Mike McNulty.

McNulty is asked about the war in Iraq, and who should be held responsible for the decision to go in.

MS: Who should be held responsible and how?
McNulty: Well, where does the buck stop? The President – from the very beginning, is the one that promoted this effort.

McNulty refuses to accept any responsibility for his vote in support of the war in Iraq. He follows the current popular Democrat line that they were fooled into voting for it because “Bush was wrong” about WMD, terrorist links, etc.

Bunk! I said it before we went into Iraq and I’ll keep saying it. If we’re concerned about WMD, North Korea and Pakistan were much bigger threats than Iraq. If we’re concerned about links to terrorism, many other countries were (and are) more obviously linked to terrorism, such as Pakistan, Iran, and Syria. Notice how Pakistan is on both lists? And we still call them our ally.

Bush did not do this by himself. Congress failed to stand up and say no. Mike McNulty failed in his duty to this district and to the American people. There were a number of congressman (such as Maurice Hinchey) who did oppose the war from the beginning. If Mike McNulty had opposed the war, and if he was a leader, he might have brought others with him and stopped it.

Now, instead of accepting responsibility for his role in getting us into the war, he’s placing the blame elsewhere.

The line is not: “The buck stops with that guy.” It’s: “The buck stops here.”

McNulty should step up now and apologize to his constituents. Like that’ll ever happen. We’ll see how he does when we debate.

Times Union gives Sweeney a boost

The Times Union reported today on Rudy Giuliani’s appearance in support of John Sweeney. I noticed a couple of interesting things about the article.

It indicates that Sweeney “got a boost” from Giuliani, who endorsed Sweeney during a day of campaigning, including “a visit to a fire house, a stop at the racetrack and a rally with more than 100 residents.”

How is this a boost? They saw 100 residents out of the 660,000 residents in the congressional district. Whoop dee doo! However, 100,000 people or more will read about it in the TU. That’s the real boost.

It’s a real shocker that Giuliani endorsed Sweeney. That’s a real hard-hitting news story. Apparently Republican Giuliani was thinking about endorsing Democrat Gillibrand. [If you can't see the sarcasm in here, please read it again.]

More interesting was the fact that the reporter reported a response from challenger Gillibrand. It’s pretty common for newspapers to report something positive about an incumbent without calling the challenger for a comment. McNulty in my race has gotten a lot of positive press in the TU without any response from a challenger (either myself or his primary opponent Raleigh).

Nice to see some mitigation of the incumbency bias. Maybe at some point the 21st district will become a newsworthy race … but I’m not counting those chickens just yet.

More on trade barriers – TU letter to editor

I recently posted about why trade barriers are bad economic policy. My post was about an article in the Times Union about a certain trade barrier involving bearings. Now the local bearing manufacturer has written a letter to the editor of the TU. I will dissect the letter here.

Letter: … an important decision that will help preserve good jobs in New York and the rest of the nation.

Response: The decision will also raise costs for manufacturers and consumers in the US and the rest of the world, and will likely destroy more jobs in other industries than it will save in bearings, as we saw with the steel tariffs a few years ago.

Letter: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Michael McNulty and Rep. John Sweeney all stepped up to the plate when New York jobs were on the line, and they deserve the thanks of every New Yorker.

Response: Now why did they leave out Chuck Schumer? Is it because Schumer is not up for reelection? When this company (Pacamor Bearings) says every New Yorker, does this include the company, which is incorporated in Delaware? If you’re so focused on NY, why isn’t your company incorporated here?
Should New York businesses who will now pay more for bearings also thank these representatives? How about the consumers of those products, who will now pay more for the products they buy?
And why would members of Congress have any influence over a decision by the International Trade Commission? The ITC is supposed to make a factual determination about whether there has been dumping or other unfair trade practices, and further whether a domestic business has been injured by such practice. See the ITC anti-dumping rules. This is a fact question and members of Congress should not be offering any testimony in such a proceeding (unless they happen to be experts, which is laughable here).
So, either Clinton, McNulty and Schumer exerted inappropriate influence on a quasi-judicial body, or they did nothing and they’re getting free press for doing nothing – but what else is new?

Letter: In the late 1980s, our company was thrown into bankruptcy due in part to the surge of dumped imports that led to the creation of these anti-dumping orders. The orders have provided a vital lifeline to the domestic industry — allowing us to bounce back from bankruptcy, invest in our workers, and upgrade our equipment.

Response: In the late 80s, you mismanaged your business and deserved to go out of business. The government has rewarded your mismanagement by protecting you from your own incompetence and in the process has stuck other manufacturers, and the ultimate consumers of your products, with higher prices.

Note that the accused dumpers include China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Those 6 countries account for well over half the economy of the rest of the world. So far the substance behind the decision is not available from the ITC. Anti-dumping rules such as these are disfavored by international trade rules such as GATT and the WTO. The US persists in them because it allows incumbents like Sweeney, McNulty and Clinton to curry favor with special interests like Pacamor Bearings. It is not to benefit Americans or New Yorkers.

Social Security and Medicare – a way out

Okay, now I’m going to put my foot firmly on the third rail – Social Security.

When I talk about my position on Social Security with those under 40, I get a strong positive reaction. When I do the same with those over 55, they start twitching like they’re going to have a seizure.

My position is simple, and the economic logic is compelling. Let people opt out of Social Security and Medicare if they want to. Those who opt out would no longer pay the “employee” share of their contribution. The “employer” share would continue to go into the system. For those, like me, who are self-employed, our self-employment tax would be cut in half. For those who don’t know, the employee share and employer share are 7.65%, and the self-employment tax is 15.3%. Those who opt out would be ineligible for any future benefits from the system.

Economics: Each person who opts out leaves all of their past contributions in the system (a fiction, I know), and cuts their effective future revenue to the system in half. They cut the expense they impose on the system in the future by 100%.

A response I often get is that this wouldn’t work and would bankrupt the system. Well if cutting future revenue from this group by 50% while cutting future expenses by 100% will bankrupt the system, then the current system is already in a whole lotta trouble.

There might be a short-term problem with keeping up with expenses for current retirees due to the drop in revenue, but this can be resolved if we (say it with me) Stop Wasting Money in other places as discussed at length elsewhere in this blog.

Part of this proposal is that we have to guarantee benefits to those who stay in the system. If you’ve paid in and you want to stay in, we must honor the deal that our country made with you.

At the same time, if you believe in freedom, you have to let people leave if they want out. Perhaps the motto of this policy is “Let My People Go”. Almost everyone under 40 would opt out in a heartbeat. What is the rationale for depriving them of this choice. Remember that they would be choosing to continue paying half into the system just to be let out. Why would we do this? Because we don’t believe the benefits will be there for us when we get older. The age of eligibility keeps going up. By the time I get in the ballpark it’ll be over 80. My grandfather died at 65 and my father died at 64. I’m optimistic about my future, but what are my odds of collecting?

In the long run, this solution will end Social Security, but it will take about 50 years (when today’s 40-year-olds are 90, and those over 50 who stayed in will be mostly dead). Within about 20 years, the system will start getting a lot stronger as the youngest of those who stay in the system will turn 70, and a substantial number will have died off. I’m not rooting for their deaths, mind you. My mother’s in that group along with two other people who are wonderful grandparents to my children. With that 20-year prospect not too far away, we should be able to borrow to finance the short-term shortfall if we have to (though I still prefer the Stop Wasting Money approach).

My proposal should be contrasted with the phony reform approach of Bush and most Republicans — private accounts. I favor real private accounts – they’re called IRAs, and they’re not mandatory.

I’m sure many who read this will reject it outright. But stand in the shoes of today’s 20-year-old. The current system has this young person putting 15% or more of their income into Social Security and Medicare for 50 or even 60 years before he/she will collect anything. If you’re in our young friend’s shoes, do you think it’s likely you’ll be collecting on this deal when you get there? How long does our young friend have to live to break even, before you start thinking about how interest should have increased the value of the contributions? Even at 40, I would opt out because of my doubts about the system. My brother says the same at age 44.

Let my people go.