Bob Dieterich, the chief financial officer of First National Bank of Scotia, looks at federal spending much the way he looks at the balance sheet of his $400 million-asset bank, examining its interest rate risk and debt trends. His take? If the government were a bank, it would certainly fail a regulatory examination.
"Banks are regulated and the examiners look at interest rate risk, but nobody is doing that at the federal level," Dieterich says. "When I looked at the nation's finances, I was just shocked."
His review of government spending was prompted by a desire to better understand The Affordable Care Act before it became law. The mess of interest spending and debt that he uncovered prompted Dieterich to run for Congress this year in the 21st District of New York, an upstate region that includes Albany and Schenectady and the southern part of Saratoga County.
Befitting his classic community bank CFO background, Dieterich is running on a platform of fiscal control to reduce the debt, balance the budget and simplify the tax code. He also is passionate about congressional term limits. He says he would limit himself to six years on Capitol Hill, viewing his hoped-for tenure there more like military service (of which he has chalked up a decade in New York's Air National Guard).
"It would be so easy to stay at home at the bank and just sit and complain while things get worse and worse," says Dieterich. "But then things would never change, so I had to go and do this."
Dieterich is challenging Democrat Paul Tonko, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2009 and spent 25 years in the New York Assembly. While the congressional race map in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, is listing New York's 21st District and Tonko in dark blue for "Safe Democrat," Dieterich believes he has a strong chance of winning. In true CFO style, he pegs his belief not to anecdotal evidence or intuition, but to some basic statistics and analysis.
Dieterich says that he and his staff examined who in the district voted in the last four years and came up with 175,000 individuals. They determined that Dieterich needs about 70 percent of them on board to ensure a victory. So the campaign literally is going door to door spreading his message of fiscal control, and so far, according to Dieterich, they have reached 15,000 of these voters, with 85 percent of them pledging their support for him in the November election.
As for fundraising, Dieterich says he is meeting all his marks, despite bringing in just a quarter of what Tonko has raised. Though he says he had to relearn how to ask for money-taking a page from his stock broker days-once he got started, the dollars started steadily coming in with about $160,000 raised as of late August, and $300,000 expected by the end of October.
Some funding may be coming courtesy of the Friends of Traditional Banking SuperPAC, which put Dieterich on its support watch list. Six other politicians also were on this list, where Dieterich was the only congressional newcomer.
Matt Packard, CEO of Central Bank in Provo, Utah, and chairman of the SuperPAC's board, says the group is pulling for Dieterich not just because he's a banker but because he could portray community banking in a positive light.
"We need people in Washington that understand the role of traditional banking and how it is a driving force of the economy," Packard says.
The industry has at least one of its own in Congress already. Rep. Blain Luetkemeyer, a two-term Republican from Missouri's 9th District, is a former community banker and state banking regulator.
John Buhrmaster, president of First National Bank of Scotia, thinks Dieterich has what it takes to do well in Washington. He praises his CFO's acumen and stick-to-itiveness, and describes him as a problem solver with a level head.
"He's always the calm in the storm-and not just calm but always the grown-up in the room," Burhmaster says. "And Congress needs more grown-ups."