Several months after launching his new political action committee (PAC) with great fanfare, Greenwich resident Len Tannenbaum says progress is being made and he’s eying next year as a time to bring forth recommendations to the state legislature.
His goal? To make Connecticut more of a business-friendly and competitive state, something he claims isn’t happening now. To that end Mr. Tannenbaum, chairman and CEO of Fifth Street Capital, LLC, formed the Keeping America Competitive PAC in May and since then he said he’s been listening to business owners and politicians to help inform him on an action plan. Those travels recently took him to Washington, D.C., for a conference held by the No Labels group, a bipartisan organization that states on its website that people need to give up “political labels” in order to work toward solutions.
In an interview with the Post, Mr. Tannenbaum described the conference as “amazing,” saying he got to meet with congressmen and senators from both parties as well as several chiefs of staff. By meeting with a “wide variety of people in a very compact time frame,” Mr. Tannenbaum said they were able to cut to the heart of the issues and focus on getting solutions to the nation’s woes.
“Both Republicans and Democrats are extremely frustrated over the polarization in Congress,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “Both sides want to get a deal done. That’s clear. But unfortunately what’s also clear is that they agree there’s zero chance of anything getting done in a lame duck Congress.”
With elections looming in November, not only for president, but for the entire House of Representatives and several senators, the time frame between the election and the January swearing-in of the new Congress is what’s known as the “lame duck session.” Traditionally that has not been a time of much productivity, but in 2010, President Barack Obama was able to get several initiatives passed through a lame duck session, and last week U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who was at the same No Labels conference that Mr. Tannenbaum was, has said it’s a good time to get started on the plan for deficit reduction and tax reform by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.
Mr. Tannenbaum said he supports much of Simpson-Bowles, but stopped short of supporting the commission’s call for increased taxes for the wealthiest Americans. He said that while at the conference he spoke with a Republican congressman, whom he kept anonymous, who he claimed told him that the party was coming around to accept there had to be new revenues brought in to cut the deficit, but that it didn’t have to come from raising taxes, rather from reforming the tax code and closing loopholes and exceptions, making it less possible to deduct money.
He said he believes there will be a time soon when Congress will be forced to take action because political polarization will put too many members at risk of being voted out unless they do something.
The No Labels organization has come under some mockery from both sides of the political aisle, but Mr. Tannenbaum said that it’s a concept that needs to be embraced. And while he is a Republican, Mr. Tannenbaum said he is not looking to create partisan rhetoric, but rather bipartisan support of business-friendly policy for Connecticut.
“I’m interested in anything that promotes practical business solutions and ideas for the government,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “I think No Labels is trying to do that. There should be bipartisan solutions.”
And while he is a Republican who is openly critical of President Obama’s policies toward business and policy, Mr. Tannenbaum criticized the congressional Republicans for signing and agreeing to a pledge put forth by Grover Norquist to never raise taxes. He didn’t dispute the aims of the pledge, but said it was bad policy to take something off the table.
“Why would any logical person do this and hamstring their ability to compromise?” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “You can vote for anything you want, so it’s not like you actually have to support raising taxes, but it’s very dangerous to take away your ability to negotiate before you even sit down at the table.”
Mr. Tannenbaum expressed disappointment in the way the congressional political system is set up so that there can’t be independent voices, since even an elected independent would have to join a caucus, such as Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders and Connecticut’s retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman, both of whom caucus with Democrats. He said this makes it “difficult to be in the middle.” He also said that it was wrong that lobbyists have so much influence in Washington thanks to their money.
However, even with that in mind, Mr. Tannenbaum is not a supporter of campaign finance reform and supports the United States’ Supreme Court’s decision in the controversial Citizens United case that threw open the doors to Super PACs and anonymous money donations that have left many criticizing the impact millionaires and billionaires could have on a political race with no restraints on their donations. He argues that labor unions have had this power forever and the Citizens United decision simply evened things out, but it can also be argued that unions have faced declining membership and spending ability in recent years and cannot keep up with billionaire spending, especially with states like Wisconsin and Indiana seeking to lessen even further the presence of unions.
“Anyone who has the money should be able to spend as they see fit,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “The American dream is great and people should strive to get here. I’m here trying to make it so everyone has the resources and education to get there. And when you get there and have the money you should be able to spend it.”
Mr. Tannenbaum said that one way to lessen lobbyist influence is to have people self-financing campaigns. However that could easily lead to an argument that it would be creating a system where only the wealthiest would be able to run for office. Mr. Tannenbaum said he doesn’t believe that, but that it is a way to keep outside money forcing people to have agendas when they serve in office.
Mr. Tannenbaum stresses that Keeping America Competitive is not a Super PAC and is not meant to carry a solely partisan message. While it will try to influence policy, he said it will not be in a Republican/Democrat kind of way.
“This gives us a voice,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “We’re not doing this to influence elections. It gives us a voice to speak on the issues that I feel are important to this state.”
Mr. Tannenbaum said this first year of the PAC is dedicated to fact finding and listening. After that the goal transitions to more of an action plan, and so far Mr. Tannenbaum says things are going well.
“I’m finding good things Democrats are doing and I’m finding good things Republicans are doing,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “I’m trying to listen to it all and see what we can do to help as a PAC.”