When Pat Tiberi finally got around to resigning after 17 years in office representing our district, he had more than six million dollars in his campaign account. Had he chosen to ride things out indefinitely, he could easily have financed another four hotly contested races to retain his seat without raising another dime.
And he hasn't had a hotly contested race for more than a decade. Why?
Because he had six million dollars in his account. For that reason, he has quietly sat on the Ways and Means committee presiding over America's headlong pursuit towards financial ruin.
The only fiscal responsibility in Pat Tiberi's office has been in his own campaign account.
Tiberi's complacency highlights two huge issues in American politics, for which the American people demand action but which our elected officials have been unwilling to impose on themselves: meaningful campaign finance reform and term limits.
We can't tackle these two problems separately. Even if we radically alter the way campaigns are financed tomorrow, those who have been in office for any length of time have amassed so much money that they will be able to cruise along with slick, well financed campaigns for years or even decades to come. If we imposed term limits, since there are no restrictions on how these politicians spend the money they have already accumulated, a well-seasoned politician can simply run for a different office with a campaign that is already paid for.
In Tiberi's case, had he carried out his plans to run for the U.S. Senate, he would have had a $6 million head start over any competitor.
I have a simple and dramatic first step to fix this. At the same time, we can ease the debt crisis these politicians have created.
I propose legislation that would require all candidates for Federal office to close their campaign accounts within 30 days after their campaigns are over - and make their checks payable to the United States Treasury, to be applied directly to the debt. This would not be budgeted income, and would not be subject to mandatory or discretionary spending: it would be applied directly to the debt.
This proposal will have an immediate, direct and positive impact on American politics.
On the campaign finance side of the equation, donors will be less likely to contribute more to a campaign than will actually be needed to finance that election - and if they do, they will know that every penny of surplus will go towards the good cause of reducing the debt our leaders have proven themselves unable to manage.
This will also have the practical effect of limiting terms in office without having to impose them by Constitutional amendment, and I think it is a better way to approach the issue. If a member of Congress has performed well in the service of our country, he or she should be able to run for reelection and will no doubt have little difficulty securing adequate donations to do so. If he or she has failed to do what attracted donors the last time, there will be no financial cushion on which they can depend to cruise on to a return trip to that office.
And any candidate who scurries to spend every penny in their account so they don't have to pay anything towards the debt will be remembered . . . not fondly . . . by their donors in the election cycle.
Everybody runs. Nobody cruises. A valuable member of Congress is not prohibited from running again, but a terrible member of Congress will have a much more difficult time convincing voters to make the same mistake again.
You have my pledge that this is what I will do when my campaign ends, hopefully when I have convinced the people of the 12th District to send me to Washington. In this election and every other Federal election in which I run.
And any Federal candidate who truly loves our country should do the same.