Democratic Congress candidate Aaron Woolf has announced a five-step plan to rein in Congress members' fringe benefits and pay.
However, his proposals drew fire from Republicans because they are similar to those a New Jersey Congress candidate announced the same day.
Woolf, who maintains homes in Elizabethtown and Manhattan, released the plan Wednesday, the day after Elise Stefanik of Willsboro handily defeated Watertown investor Matt Doheny in the Republican primary. Stefanik now has the Republican and Conservative party lines on the ballot for Nov. 4. She will vie for the North Country's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives against Woolf, Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello and possibly Doheny, who has the Independence Party spot. Doheny has not yet endorsed a candidate or said whether he will keep campaigning.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
Woolf's plan states that if there is no congressional budget, representatives should not be paid, something previously supported by the region's current congressman, Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Woolf's proposal would also cut taxpayer funding for congressional perks like gym and salon use, and for apartment rent or vehicles. Lastly, Woolf calls for closing the charter jet loophole, which lets members of Congress use political campaign funds to upgrade privately funded plane tickets to first class.
Woolf said he has spent his career as a documentary filmmaker chronicling the consequences of short-sighted congressional policies. For instance, he questioned the validity and healthiness of subsidizing the corn industry in one of his better known films, "King Corn."
"We have to rebuild trust in the institution," Woolf told the Enterprise. "There's lots of approaches. This is a small part of a larger policy outreach we are doing, but we need to take solid steps to rebuild trust, because people feel deeply disappointed in Washington."
Woolf's five-step reform plan
-"No budget, no pay for Congress - for real"
-"No funding for, nor use of, a taxpayer-funded gym or salon and barber shop by members of Congress on the public dime. It is unconscionable that numerous individuals in the House of Representatives took advantage of these perks during the shutdown of the government while federal employees could not get paid."
-"No funding for, nor use of, taxpayer money to pay for the rent or lease of vehicles."
-"No funding for, nor use of, health care "perks" that are not available to the general public. Numerous lawmakers that have voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act have voted for themselves taxpayer-funded lifetime health care plans."
-"No travel under the 'charter jet' loophole allowing members of Congress to use political campaign funds to upgrade a privately-funded flight to first class travel."
His press release states this type of government reform is his primary motivator for entering the race.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ian Prior said Woolf should come up with some original ideas. Prior said a similar government reform plan was sent out on the same day by Aimee Belgard, a Democratic congressional candidate from southern New Jersey.
"Is it really too much to ask self-proclaimed 'press release kind of guy' Aaron Woolf to come up with some original ideas for those press releases?" Prior wrote in his press release. "If Woolf is only going to release 'plans' sent to him by his Washington D.C. handlers, maybe we need to change his moniker to 'a cut-and-paste press release kind of guy.'"
Woolf described himself as a "press release kind of guy" to the Enterprise in February as he declined comment the day Democratic Party county chairs endorsed him to succeed Owens.
"It doesn't surprise me," Woolf said this morning of the NRCC accusation. He added again that his plan is an attempt to establish trust.
"It's disappointing that Elise Stefanik and Republicans are attacking Aaron Woolf over not taking taxpayer-funded congressional perks," said Stuart Rosenberg, Woolf's press secretary. "We have not seen Elise Stefanik or her Republican allies take a position on taxpayer-funded congressional perks."