Getting money out of politics is a priority for Ratigan

Former TV host wants cap on election cycle contributions

Dylan Ratigan of Lake Placid speaks at a candidates forum on May 20 at Saranac Lake High School, from which he graduated. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

GLENS FALLS — Democratic congressional candidate Dylan Ratigan says the country will not be able to fix its problems until it gets money out of politics.

Ratigan, who is one of five Democrats running in the primary election on June 26 for New York’s 21st Congressional District, told The Post-Star editorial board on Thursday that the problem in Washington is policy is being crafted to protect the interests of large institutions.

“Decisions are made to preserve those interests — even if they are at the expense of people, which they frequently are,” he said.

Ratigan, who lives in Lake Placid, said another factor is gerrymandered districts that are designed to keep incumbents in power. When there is little risk that they will be voted out of office, politicians are more beholden to their donors than the public, he said.

He cited the fact that a public insurance option was eliminated from the Affordable Care Act at the last minute in 2010. Although Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not want to include this in the final bill and risk hurting insurance companies.

Frustration with the political system is what prompted Ratigan to leave journalism after first working at Bloomberg in New York City and then spending six years at CNBC hosting a show called “Fast Money.”

He left CNBC following the economic meltdown in 2008 because he was concerned that his bosses at the channel did not want him to talk about what he believed were the true causes of the financial crisis.

“It would have required me to shut up and blame the homeowners and move along,” he said.

Ratigan said he believes the problem was not mortgage defaults but a financial system that rewarded banks for pulling resources out of rural communities.

So, he turned down a five-year CNBC contract to work for MSNBC. During his three years there, he said he could see how broken the politics were. He started a website called getmoneyout.com and had signed up 250,000 activists.

Ratigan would like to put a universal cap on the amount people can contribute in an election cycle. He believes the number of elected officials who support campaign finance reform is about to reach critical mass in Congress.

Ratigan said he is taking limited steps to get money out of politics by not taking corporate PAC money and focusing on small-dollar donors. He acknowledges that it is a long process.

“It’s like being a fish in water, saying everybody should be breathing air,” he said.

Ratigan also supports rank order voting, in which people rank their choices for office rather than voting for one person. He believes that would end the practice of candidates seeking to destroy each other through character assassination.

In 2012, he decided to leave journalism altogether and start a business called Helical Holdings, which makes hydroponic farming kits and employs veterans.

Ratigan, who grew up in Saranac Lake, said he has seen how areas like upstate New York have been brutalized by economic and financial policies.

Among the issues he believes are important are making sure that people have access to health care and jobs and feel a sense of security and that young people believe there are opportunities for them.

Ratigan proposed creating a “data dashboard” of indicators, such as how many jobs are being created, what percentage of the district has wireless coverage and the percentage of people without health insurance. He said representatives in Congress should be held accountable.

Ratigan said he believes he would be able to hit the ground running because he is familiar with elected officials from his time on television.

He said he agrees with President Donald Trump that the country needs to improve the quality of its trade agreements to reflect the actual cost. He believes one solution could be to make sure that China is not artificially devaluing its currency.

However, he disagrees with Trump that tariffs will bring back jobs. The new economy will consist of more decentralized businesses and more renewable energy, according to Ratigan.

Still, Ratigan said the overarching issue is making sure politicians are working for the people and not donors.

“The things people in Glens Falls want, they will never get until our political system is repaired,” he said.

The four other Democratic candidates are Tedra Cobb of Canton, Emily Martz of Saranac Lake, Patrick Nelson of Stillwater and Katie Wilson of Keene. They are seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who is seeking her third two-year term.

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