ITHACA, NY – John Plumb, the Democrat who is challenging Congressman Tom Reed for the New York’s 23rd Congressional District seat, made a stop in Ithaca on Tuesday as part of his policy rollout tour.

The topic of the day: money in politics and ethics reform in Congress.

Plumb argued that Congress as it is currently is can’t be trusted to police itself and that it was too easy to create policies that looked good on paper but were easily circumvented. The root of the problem, Plumb says, is the influence of money in politics, which he argues has made current members of congress more likely to listen to their large corporate donors than their constituents.

Plumb related the current trouble with ethics in Congress to his experiences as a submarine officer in the Navy, comparing the growing problem to a steam leak in a submarine:

“The thing about a steam leak is, the longer you don’t anything about it, the worse it gets. And it gets worse because more steam pushes through the hole and the hole gets a little bigger and now more steam pours out. And now with more steam coming out the whole gets bigger faster, and the problem keeps accelerating.”

“Here’s what we do on a submarine when you have a steam leak that’s getting worse: you fix it. It sounds so silly but that’s what you do, you fix things that are breaking, you fix things that are getting worse,” he said.

Plumb’s strategies

Plumb laid out a four-part strategy for “Fixing Our Broken Political System“:

First, he supports a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which effectively determined that  “corporations are people,” opening the doors for large corporations to fund political candidates.

“Corporations aren’t people. Corporations don’t send their children to school, they don’t risk their sons and daughters going to war, and they don’t even have responsibilities to our communities in America,” Plumb said. “Allowing corporations to enjoy the benefits of lower tax rates and limited liability while at the same time taking advantage of the rights that should be limited to actual citizens is wrong, and it’s hurting our democracy.”

Plumb also wants to propose policy to further limit the “revolving door” of politicians who fall into cushy lobbyist jobs after their terms are over. Currently, congresspeople must wait one year to become lobbyists; Plumb proposes expanding that to five. He also proposed cleaning up the policies around lobbying, to close loopholes that allow for what it effectively unreported lobbying.

A third pillar of Plumb’s strategy would be to establish an independent Congressional Oversight Board — since he believes that congress can’t be trusted to police itself.

“Just because you write the rules that allow you get get away with these things doesn’t make it right,” Plumb said.

Lastly, he proposes requiring improving transparency. Two specific policies include requiring members of Congress to publicly disclose bulk mailings that are funded by taxpayer dollars, a process called “franking” — originally meant to be a way to communicate important things to constituents, but now “thinly veiled campaign materials paid for by taxpayers,” according to Plumb. Plumb also called for a policy requiring congresspeople to publicly disclose the amount of hours they spend fundraising while in office.

A rural focus

“My focus is, and will remain, how to make sure our rural communities — and that’s this entire district from Ithaca to Elmira to Jamestown to Olean and all the towns in between — how to make sure we’re able to compete fairly in the 21st century,” Plumb says.

Several of Plumb’s policy proposals speak to that. Plumb’s campaign has been in the process of rolling out several policy proposals in the recent weeks, including policies aimed at improving treatment options for opioid addicts and veterans. In many of these, special attention is paid to the unique challenges faced by rural communities that may not have access to the resources of a larger city.

Plumb also spoke about the ethics issue in terms of it’s local impact.

“It is hurting our district and our rural communities are getting left more and more behind because Congressman like Tom Reed taking tons of money from special interests and lobbyists on Wall Street, then spending time in D.C. rigging the system in favor of those special interest at our expense,” Plumb said.

While Plumb’s positions are sure to resonate in Ithaca, he still faces a tough race against three-time incumbent Tom Reed. But Plumb sounded confident as he spoke about what he’s learned while campaigning:

“I will say that I am continually struck by how non-partisan most people actually are. Most people are just looking for results and someone they can trust to help move them in the right direction,” Plumb said. “That’s probably true for most of the county, we don’t see it at the national level but here in this district people really think for themselves. I’m very proud of that, frankly, and we all should be. We’re sick of partisanship and sick of blaming people and it’s time to get some results.”


Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.