Choppy financial markets, which are swooning again today, haven't become a topic of conversation on the campaign trail, according to a financial planner running for Congress.
The residents of the 10th district of North Carolina are a lot like the clients of Carl Andrew “Andy” Millard, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for a seat in the U.S. House. Everyone seems to be taking financial gyrations in stride.
“I have not had a voter mention it,” said Mr. Millard, owner of the advisory firm Millard & Co. in Tryon, N.C. “People have a more sanguine attitude toward markets than sometimes the popular press wants to think. Sometimes, we don't give people enough credit for being able to put things in perspective.”
So what is the big campaign issue for Mr. Millard? Financial reform — and defending the Dodd-Frank law — is a major part of his agenda.
“We know the public at large is not very well educated in these things,” Mr. Millard said. “It's easy for financial services firms to take advantage of them. We need to level the playing field back out.”
Mr. Millard launched his campaign on June 25 in his advisory office, which is situated in a former railroad depot. Before he announced his candidacy, Mr. Millard called each of his approximately 130 clients to tell them he was throwing his hat into the ring. He said that several of his 25 campaign volunteers are clients.
But he doesn't dwell on the race when he's in the office twice a week or when he's working with clients. Another planner in the firm and Mr. Millard's assistant are handling daily management while he's on the campaign trail.
“The client experience is as good as it has ever been,” Mr. Millard said. “I made clear that politics and the business are separate. We don't talk politics with clients.”
Although he has no opposition so far in the Democratic primary, Mr. Millard has a steep climb to Congress. The Cook Political Report calls the district “solid Republican.”
“Andy's got a lot of guts for running as a Democrat in North Carolina,” said Paul Auslander, director of financial planning at ProVise Management Group and chairman of the Florida Financial Planning Association. “Defending Dodd-Frank today is little bit scary, particularly if you're in a Republican-leaning state.”
The Republican incumbent in the district, Rep. Patrick McHenry, has made a name for himself as a leading House critic of Dodd-Frank.
Mr. McHenry has used his position as vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and, in the previous Congress, as a member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, to pressure the Securities and Exchange Commission not to go too far in regulating the markets.
Mr. McHenry has been a champion of legislation that enables Internet-based crowdfunding and also has pushed for easing regulations for investing in non-registered securities.
Commercial banks, the securities and insurance industries are three of the top five sectors supporting Mr. McHenry's 2016 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“By far, the biggest industry that has contributed to his campaigns over the years is the financial services industry, and big banks, in particular,” Mr. Millard said. “So, it's no surprise that he would think it's OK to reduce the safeguards for individual consumers while increasing the power and strength of large financial institutions.”
A spokesman for Mr. McHenry's campaign was not immediately available for comment.
If elected, Mr. Millard would join only a handful of financial advisers in Congress. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., is a former broker, as is Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. It's difficult to discern with certainty from official biographies how many other advisers hold congressional seats.
In addition to financial reform, Mr. Millard, 58, is advocating improvements to education and infrastructure. But the thrust of his campaign is that politicians are more focused on the next election than on helping the country.
“It's going to take a willingness to work together because too many folks have as their only motivation to get re-elected,” said Mr. Millard, who is making his first attempt for public office. “They are unwilling to take on the hard issues. I'm [running] because we need to face these tough decisions. We need a citizen legislature again.”
He will try to raise his name identification during a six-week trek across the district beginning Sept. 19. He will run, walk and bike 350 miles over a swath of North Carolina that stretches from Ashville to Hickory to suburban Charlotte.
He won't say who he endorses for the Democratic presidential nomination, a race in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite but is fending off the surprising popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and speculation about the entry of Vice President Joe Biden.
“I'm going to let that play out on its own for now,” Mr. Millard said. “Right now, I'm worried about my own race.”