July 06, 2019
Bill de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand owe me money,
Bernie Sanders owes money to my wife’s cousins in Waitsfield, Vt., Elizabeth Warren owes money to my in-laws on Martha’s Vineyard and Kamala Harris owes a refund to my other in-laws in San Francisco.
In fact, everyone running for president while already holding elective office should be required to reimburse the taxpayers of their cities and states for every day they’ve spent campaigning in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire or debating in Miami, instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do. Not to mention reimbursing their constituents for the cost of taxpayer-funded security and Secret Service details.
Imagine telling your boss you’re taking off the next 16 months to run for president, but expect to keep cashing your paycheck. Think your boss would go for that deal? Of course not. So why should elected officials be paid to run for another office?
I say they shouldn’t, and longtime political consultant Hank Sheinkopf agrees.
“We have allowed permanent candidacies to replace governance. Restricting non-reimbursed use of ‘public time’ might return seriousness, rather than personal aggrandizement, to public life.”
Going forward, the “electeds” running for president should all be docked for each day of work they miss. That means you, President Trump, Mayors Pete and de Blasio, Sens. Warren, Harris, Sanders, Bennet, Klobuchar, Booker and Gillibrand, Govs. Inslee and Bullock, Reps. Gabbard, Ryan, Moulton and Swalwell. Even you, Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla.
Can it get complicated to determine when an incumbent is just doing his or her job and when he or she is in fact campaigning, given that seeking reelection is central to the DNA of most politicians? Sure. Could politicians technically try to cram some campaigning into weekends or campaign time? Yup.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t try, and especially zero in on fundraising trips and vote-seeking jaunts by officials who otherwise are supposed to be focused on their home city or state.
Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, says officeholders running for president would find a way around returning their salaries for time they spend on the road running for another office.
“Senators and Members of Congress would invent a way to justify travel on the basis of their legislative committee assignments, while mayors would actually start attending meetings of the national conference of mayors to justify their travel out of town.”
At the same time, Moss worries about discouraging incumbents from seeking another elective office; ambition is a perfectly healthy force in politics.
“Four of the women running for president are senators. I don’t want to discourage future senators from running. Otherwise, we’ll be picking vice presidents and TV talk show hosts,” added Moss.
I doubt any new rules requiring reimbursement would discourage people from seeking the brass ring. Indeed, they could pay back the taxpayers out of some of the ample campaign donations they’re raising.
This would have to be done legislatively, so I’m not holding my breath. Just like I’m not expecting serious campaign finance reform any time soon. Incumbents are always looking at re-election or the next, higher office. Legislators never vote against their own self-interest. And they never stop running or raising money. Especially when their terms are only two years, as they are in the House of Representatives and the New York Legislature.
Early in my career, I was a legislative aide to state Sen. Linda Winikow, a Democrat who represented Westchester and Rockland Counties.
At a party celebrating her re-election to a sixth term in 1982, she interrupted the festivities.
“Stop celebrating,” she yelled. “We start running for re-election tomorrow.”
That’s still the sad reality of American politics. If we ever want to change it, we have to remind public officials who they work for: not the people who might elect them tomorrow, but the people they represent today.
Frydman is CEO of Source Communications.