Recently, I got a call that startled me. “Mr. Reinfeld, this is Congressman Smith's office. Can you hold? The congressman would like to talk to you.”
“Yes,” I answered. I straightened my tie and closed the game of scrabble on my laptop. Suddenly, I realized that I didn't know any Congressman Smith in my district. I decided to record the conversation — something my compliance officer had suggested I do for all calls.
Smith: Mr. Reinfeld, this is Congressman Smith from the 59th district in California.
Me: Mr. Congressman is this some mix up? I live in Pittsburgh.
Smith: I'm calling you on behalf of my parents who live in Pittsburgh. My mother sent me a news story that said you were honored by the community as the advisor most respected by senior citizens.
Me: I want to protect the consumer. Wait, now I recognize your name. Aren't you a member of the committee in charge of fiduciaries and the new legislation to tighten consumer protection?
Me: (Maybe he wants me to testify about my efforts to protect the elderly, I thought. This could be a great PR coup.) How can I help you?
Smith: Well, my dad is retired and he's bored to death. The only thing that gets him up every morning is the chance to go to another senior retirement seminar. He goes to three a week. Mother is afraid that without the seminars, Dad will drive her crazy at home and want to paint the kitchen cabinets kelly green.
Me: But I still don't understand; how can I help you?
Smith: Well, my committee is considering legislation that would outlaw these seminars for seniors.
Me: Oh, I agree with the goals of the proposed legislation. But my position is that we don't need the legislation. The free market has taken care of the problem. I was spending a few thousand dollars for each gourmet dinner at the country club, but I received zero qualified leads. I just won't do it anymore.
Smith: I want you to continue to offer them, and testify before my committee about their value.
Me: What? I don't understand. I thought you're against them.
Smith: For the entire country, yes. For Pittsburgh, no. My mom needs to get Dad out of the house in the morning.
Me: But the legislation will surely pass in today's climate of fear with so many financial institutions run amuck!
Me: Let me understand this, I present the reasons to continue allowing senior seminars (even though I am against them) making a fool of myself. You get to show your mom that you're doing what you can to get the bill changed, but that your hands are tied by the political process.
Smith: You're very politically astute. And, I will make it beneficial for you in the long run.
Me: Oh yeah? How?
Smith: We're being hypothetical, you understand.
Me: Of course.
Smith: Have you heard of ‘earmark legislation’?
Me: Yeah, that's how you guys waste dollars on special projects in your district, like a new bridge, a high school football field or a beehive museum.
Smith: I'd be willing to earmark a grant of $23 million to build a center for the study of ethical senior seminars. And you would be CEO. Your brother would be the contractor, and your wife could be the interior decorator.
Me: Can my son also get a summer internship with you?
Smith: OK, I'll hire him. But then you have to do one more thing for me
Me: (I waited for the proverbial foot to drop. Was I going to be asked to testify that I took steroids?)
Smith: I want you take on my folks as your clients. My dad keeps getting fired by his advisors. Do we have a deal?
Me: No thanks.
Smith: Why? Are you against earmarked legislation?
Me: No, it's your dad. Every professional advisor in town knows him. He doesn't want help; he can't take advice. He asks endless questions about social security and wants to take outrageous risks. He used to come to all of my seminars with a group of his cronies before I quit that gig.
Smith: How about if I hire your son as my full-time legislative advisor?
Me: It's a deal.
Smith: Ever think of running for political office? You definitely have the makings of a good politician.
Me: (I'd better destroy this tape, I think.)