Rob Woodall and the case against political nest eggs

Democrats and Republicans in Washington haven’t finished playing chicken with your 401(k). But they have, fortunately, decided to take August off.

In that, they’re like your neighborhood’s teenage vandals — who politely wait for you to repaint and reseed and rebuild before they strike again.

Rob Woodall (left), in a crowded 2010 debate for the 7th District congressional seat. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Rob Woodall (left), in a crowded 2010 debate for the 7th District congressional seat. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Because we are a red state, the debt-ceiling deal and Wall Street’s unhappy reaction have focused attention primarily on President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have sunk to the 40 percent range.

But it would be wrong if we failed to also note American disappointment with the 535 members of Congress. According to a CNN poll, voter approval has sunk to a historic, 14 percent low.

And yet, truth be told, it can be harder to fire a member of Congress than a president.

In the U.S. House, the national practice of building safe districts for incumbents in power — set to begin in our state Capitol next week — contributes greatly to the congressional survival rate. So do the astounding amounts of cash that some incumbents, whether in the House or Senate, stockpile to keep challengers at bay.

Which brings us to an original piece of legislation proposed last week by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. His idea: Allow campaign funds to be spent only in the election in which they are raised — eliminating those massive treasuries built by incumbents, whether Republican or Democrat.

The bill would also require wealthy, self-funding candidates to quickly inform their opponents when they spend more than $100,000 on their own campaigns.

Woodall is pitching his bill as an alternative to term limits. “My gripe with term limits is that 12 years with a bad congressman is 12 years too long,” he said in an interview Friday. Moreover, term limits would require a change to the U.S. Constitution.

“We’re a decade away from being able to get that through the Congress and ratified by the states,” he said.

Woodall was elected in 2010, beating seven GOP rivals in the primary and a Democrat in the general election. His legislation is more than interesting — on two counts.

First, though part of the historic freshman class of 2010, Woodall is no slave to the tea party. Tea partyers had a chance to endorse him in the primary and didn’t. They had another opportunity in the primary runoff — and still chose the other guy.

Secondly, Woodall is the former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John Linder, an 18-year Republican veteran of Congress who had stashed away a healthy nest egg of more than $500,000 to ward off challengers.

“I thought John did a fabulous job. But he never had any primary challenges. The day he retires, there are eight people in the race who say, ‘You know, I can do that job,’” Woodall said. “My question is, why didn’t he have those eight folks in the race in the year before that? Or the year before that?”

The rules of American politics reward those who stockpile cash, and Linder wasn’t the only one to do it. Currently, three Republicans in Georgia’s House delegation — Phil Gingrey of Marietta, Tom Price of Roswell and Jack Kingston of Savannah — had a combined $3.2 million in campaign cash on hand as of Dec. 31. Gingrey had the most, with $1.3 million.

Woodall himself reported a surplus of $75,000. (Among Democrats, U.S. Rep. John Lewis was the most flush, with $268,000.)

“It does prevent you from having to go back and raise funds that next year. But at some point, having to go out and ask my neighbor to write me a $10 check — that keeps you accountable,” Woodall said.

In other words, nest eggs are dangerous not just because they discourage political challenges, but because they encourage a disconnection with the home district.

Woodall’s legislation raises some questions. For instance, if campaign contributions are in fact political speech, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, can an expiration date be placed upon them?

But Woodall says this isn’t a problem. High-court decisions lifting restrictions on campaign cash have all been about the free-speech rights of contributors. They don’t apply to recipients, and haven’t addressed restrictions on how — or by when — the money must be spent.

“Our legal experts tell us [the bill] will not run afoul of any First Amendment issue,” Woodall said.

You have to ask yourself whether a congressman who’s attempting to encourage primary challenges to incumbents is asking for a tough first bid for re-election next year. To which Woodall has a ready answer.

“I loved our eight-way primary. I thought it was fabulous. You ask anybody who’s in elective politics — the more they worry about their election, the better they perform,” he said. “Competition is good. I don’t want to get anointed next time around. I want to get picked.”

Woodall admits that newcomers will probably look more favorably upon his bill than “institutionalists.” He’s trying to sign up as many Republican members of his freshman class as possible, while their enthusiasm for systemic change remains fresh.

So far, he has one co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican from Maryland.

“We all win if folks believe that their power at the ballot box is really the power to run this country,” Woodall said. “Is it scary for incumbents who have to do that every year? Absolutely. Is it scary for those who live in 50-50 districts and have to fight hard every year? Absolutely it is. But it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a real race every time.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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61 comments Add your comment

agnes

August 6th, 2011
10:06 am

If you want to have other challengers, drop the fee to become a candidate. Right now, its $5000. Also limit corporate contributions. Woodall can afford to limit the war chest. After all, he can depend on his buddy Neil Boortz for money if things get tight.

Jon Lester

August 6th, 2011
10:43 am

An even better solution to either this proposal, or term limits, would be a smarter electorate, although I don’t know how we’ll achieve that when neither corporate media nor existing legislatures have any interest in remedying the problem.

Jon

August 6th, 2011
11:08 am

A Democratic co-sponsor? How dare he!

Wilma

August 6th, 2011
11:10 am

Obama is raising money at 75k per couple. Two fundraisers this weekend and two more on Monday. Who are you kidding that the money goes to the republicans. Obama spent more money on his election than has ever been imagined in electoral politics. A lot of that money came from big wall strett banks with Goldman Sachs leading the list.
The reality of who is funding democrat politcs is a lot different than the rhetoric.

karen

August 6th, 2011
11:23 am

Wrong Wilma. Most of Obama’s money came from small contributors, and will likely be the case again in 2012. I still prefer him over anything the repulicans have to offer. Bachman, Perry, can you say scary!

independent

August 6th, 2011
11:23 am

alot of the Fat cats… are democrats… entertainment and Hollywood types…

Destin Dawg

August 6th, 2011
11:27 am

Term limits… would end ( or minimize )… fund raising… and the crooked lobbiests..that go along with it…. 1 – 5 or 6 year term… then you could run again after one term…

Destin Dawg

August 6th, 2011
11:29 am

KAREN…. FACT CHECK…. $20,000.00 plate dinners are not small contributors !!!!

independent

August 6th, 2011
11:31 am

Scary ??? the world is scared to death of this administration… Spending thru the roof !! today S&P U.S. debt downgrade…

None Of Your Concern

August 6th, 2011
11:33 am

Actually, if his own website is to be believed, Rep. Bartlett is both a Republican and a member of the Tea Party Caucus.

http://bartlett.house.gov/

independent

August 6th, 2011
11:34 am

yes Destin Dawg…. TERM LIMITS !!!

!ill Orvis White

August 6th, 2011
11:41 am

I love Rep. Woodall, but he is wrong. Contributions are free speech and if you cannot get enough friends on your side, then you are not good enough to be a contender, pure and simple.
Socialist-Democrat John Lewis has a lot of fans so he can raise dollars just as much as Mr. Woodall. There is no way this idea will pass, but there is hope for the FAIR Tax which Mr. Woodall needs to keep concentrating on. Amen, Bill

No Longer Republican

August 6th, 2011
11:41 am

His idea actually sounds like a good one. I doubt it will ever get through because most incumbents will not want to fight for their job and don’t give a damn about their district. They just want the spotlight and the power. It amazes me how stupid people in Georgia are. And yes I grew up here. This blog post had absolutely nothing to do with the presidential race or President Obama. But the stupid Tea Party idiots are so bent on taking down the president they can’t focus on anything else. As they take down the President they are taking the country down as well. The S&P downgrade falls directly on the shoulder of the tea party nutjobs.

agnes

August 6th, 2011
11:53 am

You already have term limits. Its called the voting booth. Woodall had opponents in the primary and an opponent in the general election. If you don’t like the incumbent, NOBODY is holding a gun to your head and making you vote for him (or her). Get off your lazy fanny and VOTE or STFU!

ANGRY AS HELL

August 6th, 2011
12:05 pm

Hey, Bill Ovis White, if the Fair Tax was such a fantastic program, how come your Republican heroes haven’t introduced and passed it in the House?

Ghost Rider

August 6th, 2011
12:23 pm

“Scary ??? the world is scared to death of this administration… Spending thru the roof !! today S&P U.S. debt downgrade…”

The people who are not “scared to death of this administration” are our enemies.

Business owners and investors are truly scared of the Obama administration. Obama came out of the gate as a declared enemy of business. The debt crisis, unemployment and inflation will NOT improve until Obama is history.

For those of you that prefer the conditions we now experience, Obama is your candidate for 2012. If you “vote for a living”, you should be concerned with existing conditions. Unless this economy improves, there will be NO money for welfare, WIC and like programs. What will you do when the well runs dry?

td

August 6th, 2011
12:27 pm

No Longer Republican

August 6th, 2011
11:41 am

“But the stupid Tea Party idiots are so bent on taking down the president they can’t focus on anything else.”

While all of our problems are not caused by this President, he certainly has not provided any leadership to help solve them. In professional sports if the team is not playing well, is contentious with each other and not getting the job done then it is the managers fault and he is fired. It does not matter if the manager has won 3 NBA titles, 3 super bowls or 5 world championships it is the managers fault. It is time to fire Obama and put someone else in the white house that can provide some leadership.

Ghost Rider

August 6th, 2011
12:27 pm

No Longer Republican:

“The S&P downgrade falls directly on the shoulder of the tea party nutjobs.”

. . . and your recommended course of action would have been?

Borrow even more money? That’s what brought our country to its’ current state. You can only “whistle past the graveyard” for so long. The bills are due.

Ghost Rider

August 6th, 2011
12:31 pm

“Wrong Wilma. Most of Obama’s money came from small contributors, and will likely be the case again in 2012″

Somebody’s been drinking that Obama Kool-Aid again!

RGB

August 6th, 2011
12:37 pm

@No Longer:

“The S&P downgrade falls directly on the shoulder of the tea party nutjobs.”

I knew it wouldn’t take long for the detached-from-all-reality Democrats to blame the S&P downgrade on the Tea Party.

Who knew that a loosely-knit band of patriotic American citizens controlled the Standard & Poors rating agency? I’ll bet they are racists too. And terrorists.

The president and his party failed to listen to S&P and, more importantly, have failed to listen to American citizens. Their current spending trajectory guarantees there will be no Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, or other government programs that liberals claim they want to preserve.

But actuarial science is difficult to defeat. And that you people denigrate patriotic Americans who want to save the union from ruin really says everything about your character.

And stop claiming that you are “no longer” a Republican. Why not say that you’re no longer a patriotic American? Or ever were.

AV

August 6th, 2011
12:40 pm

When the Senate Minority Leader and the Speaker of the House stand in front of the America people to state that their only purpose is to make sure that the President of the United States does not have a second term. Should let everyone know beyond a shadow of doubt that they do not care about the American people or the fiscal soundness of our government. We the American voter elect the President based on what we consider is important not what Congressional Leadership think is important.

RGB

August 6th, 2011
12:55 pm

@No Longer Republican:

Here’s a handy link I know you’ll want to use:

http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_776.html

You can hereafter be called “No Longer American” which will make both of us feel better.

No Longer Republican

August 6th, 2011
2:16 pm

RGB you just proved my whole argument about the idiot tea party nutjobs. I am not an American since I disagree with them. Just fyi, this is still my country too and I am going to do all I can to make sure the right-wing morons don’t destroy it. Of course I’m not doing enought because they are destroying this country more and more every single day. You are helping them do that moron so you are the un American!

Now go post your idiotic bigoted comments somewhere else. That is all you are good for.

Ghost Rider

August 6th, 2011
2:20 pm

RGB:

I think “No Longer . . .” actually is “Never Was . . .”

gop

August 6th, 2011
2:35 pm

You can’t have term limits. You can’t enforce them. That’s always been the rub.

morons.

midtownguy

August 6th, 2011
2:41 pm

It will take decreased spending and increased revenue to reduce the debt. So can we count on the Georgia Republicans to help close the tax loopholes for certain industries, limit the mortgage interest deduction, end farm subsidies for corporations, quit building airplanes even the military say they don’t need?

midtownguy

August 6th, 2011
2:42 pm

gop: One of my favorite comments made here “we’ve always had term limits, they are called elections”

ED

August 6th, 2011
3:05 pm

Yeah, term limits are a great idea (sarcasm), put even more power into the heads of unelected bureaucrats.

ED

August 6th, 2011
3:06 pm

Not a bad idea actually that he proposes. Helps to level things a bit. The more I think on it the better idea it seems.

td

August 6th, 2011
3:18 pm

“You don’t get out of 9.2% unemployment, you don’t get out of — today it was announced [that] the largest number of Americans [are] on food stamps in history. I’ve said now for six months, this is the most effective food stamp President in history. That sounds like it is an attack, it’s just a statement of fact. It’s just that his administration kills jobs. They are driving Americans onto food stamps. Most Americans would rather have a paycheck,” Newt Gingrich

To bad Newt has ruined his own chances of becoming President. He is by far the smartest person in this coming election cycle and has actually balanced a budget, unlike our current President.

double

August 6th, 2011
3:23 pm

always had term limits- so you can spend big money to get elected.Term limits like the president.Yes they are enforceable.Leadership we need.Hillary should try again.

double

August 6th, 2011
3:38 pm

I would feel very comfortable with Hillary Clinton as president.Also knowing Bill would be there if she needed him,would be more comforting.

Jeff

August 6th, 2011
3:41 pm

It’s hard to read through these comments without getting nauseated at some of the finger-pointing and blame-casting going on. We say we want our elected officials to work together to find solutions to our problems, but folks responding to a simple story on a newspaper website can’t keep from sounding like middle school kids blaming the other guy for what went wrong — it’s Obama’s fault, no, it’s the Republicans fault.

midtownguy

August 6th, 2011
3:42 pm

Biggest mistake made by the Democrats in my lifetime? Nominating Obama instead of Hillary. Either would have easily beaten McCain. If the Clintons were in the White House we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Problem? No Democrat is going to run against the first black president for the nomination, even though I think they would win.

Sitting Bull

August 6th, 2011
3:52 pm

Bush sent me a check, he started problem.

Tom

August 6th, 2011
4:04 pm

Why blame the current president for lack of jobs? Go to any store and look for something that is made in America. Unless you are a complete idiot you will then understand why there are no jobs in this country. This out migration of manufacturing jobs started in the 80’s under Reagan and has continued under every president since then. It will not stop until our presidents and congress start put americans instead of corporations first.

Big Daddy

August 6th, 2011
4:51 pm

What kind of ‘nest egg’ does Gov. Nathan Deal (R.) have, now that he’s in business with a porn king?

saywhat?

August 6th, 2011
4:56 pm

Dave

August 6th, 2011
6:16 pm

I’d suggest that Rep. Woodall consult with some of the people (remember, corporations and unions are people, just like Soylent Green) that pushed Citizens United through the Supreme Court. Does he really think the big money people are going to put up with a limitation on their influence?

td

August 6th, 2011
6:19 pm

saywhat?

August 6th, 2011
4:56 pm

I would say you have an unbiased source. LOL

Perrspectives.com is the work of Jon Perr, a technology marketing executive and supporter of Democratic causes with 25 years of experience in each.

Currently a software marketing consultant based in Portland, Oregon, Jon has long been active in Democratic politics and public policy as an organizer and advisor in California and Massachusetts. His past roles include field staffer for Gary Hart for President (1984), organizer of Silicon Valley tech executives backing President Clinton’s call for national education standards (1997), recruiter of tech executives for Al Gore for President (2000), and co-coordinator of MassTech for Robert Reich (2002). He is also a member of New Democrat Network.

Ol' Timer

August 6th, 2011
7:21 pm

It really doesn’t matter. The Supreme Court, in it’s recent ruling, has opened the door to unparralled financial abuse and what will probably be the dirtiest campaign since Andrew Jackson. It was nasty. I remember it well.

Mittens has already received a million dollar contribution from a company that was formed and surrendered it charter within a month.

Those who yell so loud about God and restoring prayer in the schools etc., etc., have no compunction about doing whatever it takes to win in 2012 — and the truth doesn’t factor into the equation if a lie is needed to make a point.

Let the games begin. But one might want to pause a bit before writing Obama’s obituary. A year is a lifetime in presidential politics.

double

August 6th, 2011
7:43 pm

I don’t know about this Nest Egg- a buzzard may be in the hen house.

Ghost Rider

August 6th, 2011
8:26 pm

Ol’ Timer:

“and the truth doesn’t factor into the equation if a lie is needed to make a point.”

I venture to guess that you believe Obama to be truthful? Don’t challenge me on this because I will inundate you with video of the glaringly obvious lies he has told both before the election and during this term in office. I can even entertain you with the lies he told while a U.S. Senator.

Have you ever questioned from where he is financed? Don’t tell me that it is from very small individual contributions. That lie has already been exposed.

“But one might want to pause a bit before writing Obama’s obituary. A year is a lifetime in presidential politics.”

I totally agree. I believe a wooden stake must driven through his heart before th obit can be written.

It’s difficult to kill an economic terrorist!

Liquasia

August 6th, 2011
8:56 pm

I hope someone electable runs agains Woodall next year. I voted for the guy but I’m already sick of him.

His vote to continue federal government of the ultra-liberal NPR as soon as he hit Washington got him off on the wrong foot.

Charles

August 6th, 2011
10:37 pm

Just how many times in the past 20 years has the fair tax had a reading on the floor of the house. Even when Rep. are in the majority, Linder, and now Woodall cannot get even a reading. That says something about their lack of leadership. You only hear about the fair tax when they are up for re-election. Deficate of de-commode!

O Possum

August 7th, 2011
7:49 am

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland is a Republican, not a Democrat.

Willis

August 7th, 2011
8:46 am

The politicians who build up campaign cash should be required to pay for the expenses of their local offices which serve more to keep the politicians “visible” than actually providing needed services to their constituents. Chambliss has 4 state offices in addition to his Washington office; Isakson has one in the state and his Washington office. Each congressman has at least one office in his/her district. Let them use their own money and collect fees from the people who actually use the “services” of these offices. There should be limits, of course, and full disclosure of what the money is used for: rent, utilities, staff, travel and such.

Smoke

August 7th, 2011
10:57 am

“alot of the Fat cats… are democrats… entertainment and Hollywood types…” Really? So, why are the conservatives fighting so hard not to increase their taxes?

Smoke

August 7th, 2011
10:59 am

Only complain about NPR being “ultra-liberal after you have listened to it for a full week. When you get tired mostly hearing classical music, the “Car Show,” and “Prarie Home Companion” give us a holler!

Smoke

August 7th, 2011
11:13 am

A President broke all fund raising records, and boasted that its support came from large numbers of small “grassroots” contributors. In fact, most “hard money” came from the wealthiest 1% of the population. Of the 246 major contributors, 104 ened up in government posts. The President citied isn’t Obama.