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A Financial Plan for America

I’ve always wondered why financial planners don’t have more input into public policy debates-many of which revolve around fundamental financial issues like the national debt, and the proper way to structure various parts of the tax code. Beyond that, I’ve said on more than one occasion that I would dearly love to see financial planners find a voice in Congress regarding all things Wall Street.

So I was pleased when I discovered that a financial planner I’ve known for years, and have respect for, is running for Congress. In fact, he’s trying to unseat an incumbent who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, been a reliable supporter of Wall Street interests and also, more recently, supported easing regulations on predatory payday lending firms.

This financial planner-turned-candidate’s name is Andy Millard, and he recently sold his financial planning firm so he could run for the House of Representatives in 10th Congressional District of North Carolina. I think the best description of him, politically, is that he may be the most conservative Democrat in the country. And in addition to representing his district, he also sees an opportunity to represent his former profession. “I’m hoping that if we can get enough financial advisors across the country, particularly fiduciary planners, to agree with what we’re trying to do,” says Millard, “we should be able to get the attention of Congress and create a decent financial plan for America.”

A big part of this mission, which many planners will undoubtedly support, is finding a workable bipartisan path to reduce the national debt. “Even though I’m running as a Democrat, and people typically think of debt reduction as a Republican issue, I think that is a false identification,” says Millard. “It shouldn’t be a political issue at all; it should be something where we all recognize that at some point we can’t keep paying that interest. We have to deal with the debt, but in a smart, comprehensive way, and I think financial advisors and planners are in an especially strong position to make that case to folks, because we’re the ones who live it on a smaller scale with people every day.”

Does he have a plan? “People ask me: what’s your solution?” Millard says. “But the truth is, I don’t have to come up with a solution. The Simpson-Bowles Commission came up with something a few years ago, and nobody wanted to talk about it. It had the advantage of being bipartisan, which is a fairly remarkable thing in Washington. And the numbers work, which is also something you don’t always see in Washington.”

Millard believes that the collective voice of the profession has a fair chance of injecting some reason into the partisan fever in Washington. “Financial advisors are in such a unique position to make the case for a balanced budget, because we are not in it for partisan gain or anything,” he says. “These are the same kinds of questions that we have to face with our clients every day.”

That’s one issue. “Another big issue is the retirement crisis that we have in this country, that advisors see every day as well,” says Millard. “We have so many people who just do not save for retirement. Sixty eight million Americans have no access to a workplace retirement plan, and those who do, too many of them don’t contribute, either because they can’t afford to or they don’t know that they should.”

The solution? “I’m not sure that we can mandate that people save,” says Millard. “But I do think we can create a simpler vehicle into which they can save. Right now, there’s the 401(k), the 403(b), the SIMPLE IRA, the SEP IRA, the Keogh, 527s and all that sort of thing, and people don’t understand it, and you can’t blame them. I think we have to have a single tax-advantaged savings vehicle that everyone can access, sort of like a beefed-up IRA that employers could have the option to add to, to add matching contributions, that would be portable for each person to take from one place of work to the next.”

Anything else? “The next one is something that financial planners might not agree with, but I’m convinced it’s important,” says Millard: “smart investments in our country, in infrastructure, roads and bridges. Advisors know you are never going to get a return on an investment that you never make. We have to invest in those roads and bridges and clean energy.” He also supports universal broadband, and is looking for a way to help students avoid massive student debt in their early worklife.

Of course, Millard understands the skeptics. “I just got off the phone with another guy in the financial industry, and he said: it seems like everybody who gets to Washington loses their independence,” he says. “What everybody seems to be looking for these days is a candidate who can’t be bought, and it looks to me like they’re hard to find.

“That’s one of the reasons I feel like I make a strong candidate,” Millard continues. “Because I recently sold my business, because I was able to build a fairly successful business, because I’ve reached a certain age [59], I am not looking for a new career, and I don’t need the career, so I don’t feel like I CAN be bought. If I get the job, I do what I can do. It is not like I’m looking to be there for the next 20 years.”

But… What kind of chance does he have against a 6-term incumbent?

“I think it’s pretty clear that my opponent has done nothing for the district,” says Millard, “and his voting record suggests that he may have been compromised the way so many are in Washington.” On his end, Millard currently has a staff of 9 including a campaign manager, a communications person, an office manager who handles his schedule, an opposition researcher, a data director, a marketing firm, a fundraising firm and coordinators in each county in the district. “We have about 80 volunteers working with us,” he says. “We are still early-on, but one thing you learn in a hurry about politics: it costs a lot of money. To be competitive, we’re looking to raise $1 million. If we can get above that, even better.”

Millard is hoping that the profession will help him reach that financial threshold, and that if he’s elected, they’ll provide him with feedback, input, ideas and perspectives that come uniquely from our profession. If you’re so inclined, you can contribute through his website, which is http://www.millardforcongress.com, or mail a check to: Millard for Congress, P.O. Box 1074, Tryon, NC 28782. You can also reach out to him directly at: andy@millardforcongress.com.