BLOG VIEW: Paying For Another Six Years Of Chris Dodd

ive in Connecticut, and next year, one of our senators is up for re-election.[/b] I think you may have heard of him: Chris Dodd. The past two years have not been smooth sailing for the five-term incumbent. During this period, Dodd has been called to task for his curious business partnership with Countrywide Financial Corp., his financing of a vacation home in Ireland, his prolonged absence from Washington in pursuit of a disastrous bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his flip-flopping on whether he deserved byline credit for the bill that ensured American International Group's executives kept their juicy bonuses. Dodd has valiantly declared he's ready, willing and able for a sixth term, despite the seemingly endless skein of gaffes that tarnished his reputation. And there are plenty of deep-pocketed folks who think the Senate could use Dodd for another six years: His re-election campaign has already raked in more than $1 million in campaign contributions. Yet there is a curious disconnect between the Beltway and Connecticut. According to filings from Dodd's political action committee (PAC), his re-election campaign has only raised $2,250 from Connecticut voters – and all of that money came from a grand total of four people. The rest of Dodd's campaign funds came primarily from the PACs from the financial services entities that fall under the bailiwick of the Senate Banking Committee, where Dodd is the chairman. The Associated Press gave a rundown of who's giving Dodd money: the American Insurance Association, Ameriprise Financial, Charles Schwab, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Real Estate Roundtable and Vanguard. A few labor unions pitched in as well, but for the most part, the re-election funds are strictly a financial services industry endeavor. This situation raises a very serious question: Who wants Dodd to be re-elected? At the moment, Connecticut voters are not enthused about a sixth term for the senator. A Quinnipiac University poll found Dodd trailing Rob Simmons, a former Republican Congressman, by 16 points. That's no mean feat, considering that Simmons was booted from office in 2006 as part of the anti-incumbent swing that shook control of the Congress away from the Republicans. Two other potential but lesser-known Republican challengers, State Senator Sam Caligiuri and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, are also ahead of Dodd in the Quinnipiac poll. Yet it appears the financial services industry doesn't care what the Connecticut voters think – they want to keep Dodd in the Senate, even though the local polls show that voters are fed up with him. Quite frankly, this is a public relations embarrassment. The message being sent with the $1 million in early campaign donations is a call for keeping the status quo. This is particularly problematic for the mortgage banking industry. At last week's MBA National Secondary Market Conference, MBA President and CEO John Courson acknowledged that the industry has a serious reputation problem with the U.S. public. Needless to say, giving money to someone like Dodd is not going to raise the industry's standing in the court of public opinion. Election Day 2010 is still some time away, and Dodd's opponents have yet to fully brand themselves beyond the obvious ‘Anyone But Dodd’ banner. For that matter, they might even confound the naysayers and turn out to be less palatable than Dodd. In any event, it might be best for the financial services industry in general and the mortgage banking industry in particular to keep Dodd at arm's length. If it is perceived that the industry is trying to keep a political figure in power despite the wishes of his constituents, the industry will be seen as unwilling to embrace serious change that will speed recovery. It will ultimately be up to the Connecticut voters to determine whether Dodd is deserving of another go-round – the industry should keep its PAC funds in the bank and let Dodd's constituents determine his fate. – Phil Hall, editor, [b][i]Secondary Marketing Executive[/i][/b]. [i] (Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@sme-online.co

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