Want a seat in Congress? Got a million dollars?

Validating the TV spot I made in February 08 and ran on cable and broadcast:

The price of admission to the U.S. House of Representatives keeps going up.

More than half of the winning candidates in November — 252 in all — raised more than $1 million for their races, including each of those in the 50 most competitive contests, Federal Election Commission records show.

That’s 27 percent more than the 199 members who reached that threshold in 2004, the last U.S. presidential election.

“It is a new era of fundraising that raises the bar for non-incumbents” and encourages incumbents to seek “more and more cash to scare off challengers,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. “The real election is the race for money.”

Bloomberg.com: News.

We have the best politicians money can buy. And you wonder why your dollars don’t do as much for you as they used to?

The only way we’ll see real change in government, is when we see change in campaign finance. I’ve often said there should be a cap on how much you can spend on a campaign- it should never exceed what the position will pay over the term.

So, if you are going to make $400K as President for 4 years, the most you could spend on the campaign is $1.6 million. That’s a far cry from the billion dollar smackdown we just had (I’m guessing at how much was spent in the presidential final- add in the primaries and it was probably closer to $3 billion).

Why the giants of Detroit have stumbled.

The rhetoric around the Big Three bailout is virulent. The finger pointing is intense. And most of it is total poppycock.

The New York Times had an article this morning about the Chevy Volt electric car. One car is all GM, a global auto manufacturer, is betting the whole company on one car. An overpriced one at that- 10 years late to market. Read:

The Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, will not arrive in showrooms until late 2010. But it is already straining under the weight of an entire company.

The Volt is expected to go on sale in late 2010. G.M. plans to sell about 10,000, priced at about $40,000, in the first year.

Executives at General Motors, the largest and apparently the most imperiled of the three American car companies, are using the Volt as the centerpiece of their case to a skeptical Congress that their business plan for a turnaround is strong, and that a federal bailout would be a good investment in G.M.’s future.

In ads that ran this week, the company said of the Volt: “This is not just a car. It’s a vision of our future.” Another claimed that the vehicle would “completely reinvent the automotive industry.”

There is a long tradition in Detroit of relying on a single new model or technology as a silver bullet to quickly solve bigger problems. Sometimes it works — the Chevrolet Corvette, the Ford Mustang and Ford Taurus, and Chrysler’s K-car lineup of compact, fuel-efficient cars in the early 1980s all gave their companies an enormous boost.

But whether the Volt can live up to its billing is already a matter of debate. And some industry analysts note that General Motors has a poor track record of introducing green technology to the market.

The Volt is a big long-term bet. New vehicles typically cost $1 billion to develop, and the Volt requires new technology that probably inflated that price tag even more.

G.M. says the car, which is scheduled to arrive in showrooms two years from now, will be able to travel 40 miles on a charge, but it will also have a small gas engine to extend the range to as much as 640 miles using both the battery and gasoline the 1.4 liter, four-cylinder engine is intended to run a generator that will power the car and recharge the batteries once they are depleted. It is expected to cost about $40,000.

G.M.’s Latest Great Green Hope Is a Tall Order – NYTimes.com.

It’s not the UAW, or health care costs, or even quality that is at issue here- it’s that GM lost its way as a car company over the last 40 years. Instead of building cars- they built “brands” and spent a lot of money trying to tell us there was a difference between a Camaro and a Firebird. They became a finance company- GMAC, financing everything from cars to homes. They introduced new model after new model that ignored lessons from history- like the 1973 oil embargo, where people were lined up at gas pumps, and were looking to more fuel efficient cars. All while GM kept paying the “Leadership” more and more, and delivering less and less market share.

At some point, the market, was supposed to correct bad companies – according to the wisdom of the now fully naked and deposed emperor, Alan Greenspan.

Reality: while everything else changed faster, the American auto giants became the proverbial Goliath- and a simple slingshot has now taken them down.

Change wasn’t in their vocabulary. An “American Revolution” was actually a call back to the glory days when there was no global competition and little innovation.

We should wonder how our country was able to turn on a dime after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941. America switched from building cars to building tanks and bombers to win the war in under 4 years, while GM has been unable to respond to a hybrid car in ten. Read what Ross Perot had to say about GM’s culture – and you begin to understand.

In the  eight years that the Toyota Prius has been on the market, the Big Three automakers have probably spent more money on lobbying Congress not to increase the CAFE standards than on developing a more fuel efficient product line. No, it wasn’t the UAW’s fault this happened- it’s our nation’s belief that Government is something we buy- instead of something we already own. It’s our belief that we need to spend money to micro-manage decisions by the “representatives” of the people- instead of just worrying about how to win in a global economy.

When the Big 3 whined about the cost of health care– they didn’t try to solve it by having a showdown with the insurance companies- they lobbied Congress. When Hillary Clinton was talking about a national health care program- they didn’t step up in support, but stood on the sidelines. We’ve become a nation of lawyers and legislators instead of a nation of innovators and competitors.

How hard would it have been for the Big 3 to get together and pool their resources to back an Automotive Industry Health Care buying collaborative, where they used their scale to go direct to health-care providers to buy health care (instead of insurance) for their employees? We’re talking a pool of millions of workers, giving them the same economies of scale that make them so “invaluable” to the American economy that supposedly warrants a bailout.

Instead, GM had five corporate jets to ferry executives around.

GM has fought against efficient transportation initiatives for years. Now, it’s asking for a free lunch after decades of planting the wrong crops. Maybe the American automobile manufacturing days should be over- with the US switching to fast light trains and clean energy (see the Apollo Alliance) – maybe cars aren’t the answer.

Either way- right now, it’s not GM, Ford or Chrysler in the driver’s seat- and for good reason. Any company that takes ten years to respond to competition in today’s economy, isn’t ready for the next ten years. Congress isn’t much better- reactive legislation has become their standard operating procedure.

We won WWII in 4 years. Will Barack Obama be a leader who can turn us around in four years? The war is against the loss of our entrepreneurial spirit, the loss of our understanding of reap what we sow. Economic strength does not come from lobbyists but from innovators. It’s time to end our system of buying legislation- and start investing in innovation again. Time is the enemy in both innovation and in compound interest on the national debt.

It’s time to stop rewarding stumbling- and to start rewarding speed to innovation. We don’t need giants to jumpstart the economy- we need speedy sprinters. If Congress is looking for answers, fallen giants aren’t the answer to our problems. Bigger isn’t the answer. Smarter and faster is.

Undecided voter = idiots.

At this point, I’m tired of polls. I’m tired of discussions about; race, issues, merits, experience, redistribution of wealth, health care plans, the war, the economy, who is more like George Bush and if any of this matters.

Our system is set-up to really screw-up:

  • The popular vote doesn’t count- so if your state is close to “balanced” you become a swing state which means you can’t escape this stupidity.
  • We spend way too much money on sound-bites, and not near enough time and effort on debates. The first 3 “debates” (2 presidential one VP) were absolute dreck- if we had 3 of the number 3- we’d all be able to learn a lot more. [hint: flag pin questions don’t cut it]
  • Media- that get a good amount of all that political cash- likes the vote to be close- so more money is spent with them. Of course, since they “report” the polls- they help fan the flames. Polls should be illegal. Keep it all private until the election.
  • Hot-button issues like: guns, god, gay marriage, abortion etc. aren’t decided by the president, so why bother arguing about them?
  • All politicians tell us they are going to cut taxes. None do. So why do we talk about it like it means anything? Time for truth in campaigning laws- where we can actually sue them for flip-flopping or lying.
  • We’re supposed to be a nation that separates church and state- so why do we care so much about a candidates religion?
  • Last I checked, there is no “presidential training program”- so debate about “qualifications” is yet another bit of BS. It’s sort of like trying to compare who removes an appendix better- you can only have it done once, so you can’t do a double-blind.
  • As long as we let people buy politicians and allow “lobbyists” to do their thing- a lot of people will be disenfranchised- it’s time to eliminate all campaign “donations” over $100 per candidate. Set up a realtime system that’s free to use- which will only allow each individual to only give $100 per candidate, and a fund a max of 10 candidates per election cycle- and take the obscene money out of the system.
  • Lastly- we won’t have smart people in office, until we have smart people voting for them. If you are still undecided today- maybe you shouldn’t be voting. Let’s have a civics and literacy test before you can vote. Maybe it’s even time to require a HS diploma to vote, since we can’t seem to get more than a 75% graduation rate in this all powerful country.

So, if in 8 days I have to read another headline from the London papers asking how so many people in our country can be so stupid- like we saw 4 years ago, you won’t say I didn’t warn you.

And, btw- if you’re reading this, you are smart enough to vote. Congrats.