Member of Congress need to spend less time raising funds

That’s how Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) accurately described how much members of Congress loath fundraising during a congressional hearing in 2009.

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He’s right. As a former congressional staffer, I saw firsthand that fundraising (and especially call time) was the least enjoyable aspect of the job for nearly all members of Congress.

Nonetheless, with the end of the fundraising quarter having just passed, many members have been frantically soliciting campaign cash to try to meet quarterly fundraising goals. In fact, it’s not uncommon for more members to be at call-time than appear at a party’s caucus meeting. The Sunlight Foundation’s politicalpartytime.org has a list of 159 fundraisers in the last 10 days of June alone — and those are just the ones we know about.

Recent estimates reveal that many members spend anywhere from 25 percent up to 50 percent (and sometimes more) of their time fundraising, especially as an election approaches. All this time spent fundraising could be better spent meeting with constituents or working to solve our nation’s many challenges — and with debates over Libya, the debt ceiling, gas prices and unemployment, there are many.

Members aren’t to blame, but our corrosive big money system is. Members of Congress race to build the biggest war chest to fend off challengers or pundit speculation. Luckily, an alternative approach exists that would stop the endless chase for campaign cash. The Fair Elections Now Act would allow members to raise small, in-state donations so they can spend more time with their constituents instead of crisscrossing the country to meet ultra-wealthy donors or sitting in a windowless room endlessly dialing for dollars. The small donations of $100 or less would be matched on a five-to-one basis allowing candidates to remain competitive against opponents and outside spending. With Fair Elections, candidates could focus on people back home and on addressing our country’s problems — not fundraisers at Capitol Hill eateries or Wall Street junkets. The bipartisan House bill, H.R. 1404, has more than 65 co-sponsors, and the Senate companion legislation, S. 750, has attracted more than a dozen cosponsors so far.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quoted at the end of the first quarter as telling Republican freshmen that they should spend plenty of time fundraising because he would be closely following their first- and second-quarter fundraising reports. Democratic leaders tell their caucus the same thing. 

Congress should be focused on putting people back to work and any number of issues — not their fundraising. The Fair Elections Now Act would be a good step at addressing these skewed priorities.

Washington, D.C.


Mortgage interest tax credit will boost market

From Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance and the American Homeowners Foundation

[Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Narayana] Kocherlakota is correct that reducing the cap on the mortgage interest deduction and creating a mortgage interest tax credit would be good policy, but not because it would bring stability to the housing market. 

The instability resulted from lenders abandoning sound underwriting practices, and other policy changes are needed to prevent that from recurring. A mortgage interest tax credit would for the first time create tax incentives for many persons of moderate income to own a home. Many taxpayers in the sub-$45,000 income range today are just as well off or better off with the federal standard deduction as they would be with a mortgage interest deduction on a mortgage they could afford at that income level (around $140,000).

This combination is also what the president’s deficit commission recommends. They also estimate that it will be a big tax-revenue raiser. We think it is a good policy but we also think it will turn out to be a tax cut for many times more homeowners than see a tax increase as a result. While it will increase the taxes on the proportionately smaller number of taxpayers who can qualify for mortgages larger than $500,000, it will provide a home ownership tax incentive to many times that number of renters who presently don’t have an incentive to buy. 

If even a small percentage of these millions of potential homebuyers enter the market they will quickly snap up the current excess inventory at the low end, and enable many of those owners to move up. 

It will also create a huge demand for new entry-level homes that are affordable to those with sub-$45,000 incomes. All of this will increase home ownership and jobs in the housing sector, but with so many first-time buyers taking advantage of the tax credit, they will quickly outstrip the anticipated revenues from reducing the tax benefits for wealthier homeowners. 

Nonetheless we support this redistribution in the interest of fairness, stabilizing home values and creating many badly needed jobs in the housing sector.

Arlington, Va.

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