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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cash Advantage for Romney as Campaign Enters Final Weeks

Mitt Romney and the Republicans entered October with a cash advantage of more $34 million over President Obama and the Democrats, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday, as heavy spending by Mr. Obama offset his stronger fund-raising during the past two months.

Mr. Romney, the Republican National Committee, and their joint fund-raising committee ended September with $183 million in cash on hand, compared to $149 million for Mr. Obama, the Democratic National Committee, and their joint fund-raising effort, giving the Republicans a significant cash advantage just as the race began to swing in Mr. Romney's favor in early October.

The filings show little evidence of jitters or second-thoughts on the part of Republican donors during September, a month when Mr. Romney lagged in some polls and appeared to shift messages almost daily in an effort to find purchase on Mr. Obama. And Mr. Obama's high burn rate in September - his camp aign alone spent $116 million dollars - has largely erased one of his biggest financial advantages over Mr Romney. Whereas Mr. Obama once held far more money in his own campaign account, giving the Democrats more flexibility in spending and lower rates for much of their advertising, Mr. Romney has narrowed the gap, ending September with $62 million in his campaign account compared to Mr. Obama's $99 million.

After struggling over the summer with cash flow problems that forced him to take out a $20 million loan, Mr. Romney began tapping into his general election funds in September, while the Republican National Committee continued to far outpace the Democratic National Committee in overall fund-raising for the month. The Republican committee pulled in $48 million in contributions, ending with almost $83 million in cash on hand. The Democratic committee raised about $8 million and had so much debt that it ended September in the red.

The cash positions reflect risks for both candidates as the enter the final weeks of the campaign. Mr. Obama invested tens of millions of dollars in early voter outreach and field offices - in part to prepare for early voting in many states - and was forced to spend heavily on advertising against Mr. Romney over the summer, money that was largely matched by conservative super PACs and outside groups. Now he has less money to spend at a time when some polls show him trailing Mr. Romney in key swing states.

But Mr. Romney, whose cash flow grew so constrained in August that he was forced to take out a $20 million bridge loan, faces an opposite problem: He must spend even more aggressively now if he wants to equal Mr. Obama's investments in the field, and has less time in which to do it.

And despite an uptick in giving to the leading Democratic super PACs, including the one backing Mr. Obama, overall outside spending continues to benefit Republicans more than Dem ocrats. Conservative groups have spent $463 million, more than twice as much as the $194 million spent by conservative groups.

Over the past week, according to a Republican tracking media purchases, the Romney campaign, the R.N.C., and Republican-aligned groups spent about $34.6 million in the presidential race. Mr. Obama, the Democrats, and liberal groups spent about $24.4 million, a gap of more than $10 million.

Biden Calls Romney\'s Proposals \'Etch A Sketchy\'

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. â€" Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Saturday that he needed to correct the remarks President Obama has been making, flashing a smile as he reprised the latest Democratic attack accusing Mitt Romney of offering Americans a “sketchy deal.”

“Romney wasn't sketchy,” Mr. Biden said. “He was Etch A Sketchy.”

The president first used the “sketchy deal” line at the debate on Tuesday, arguing that Mr. Romney's tax proposals did not add up, his job plan would not actually create jobs and his deficit-reduction proposals would only increase the nation's deficit.

The crowd of nearly 1,000 Democrats gathered here in a school gymnasium on Saturday afternoon roared with approval, particularly when Mr. Biden compared Mr. Romney to an Etch A Sketch. The reference was to a March comment, when a top adviser to Mr. Romney suggested that “everything changes” when the campaign moves from the primary to the general.

Using the term “sketchy deal,” is an intentional strategic move from the Obama campaign to fire up their base, advisers said, while trying to bluntly raise questions about whether voters can trust Mr. Romney.

The tone in the closing stage of the race is notable, with Mr. Romney trying to persuade people that he can reach across partisan lines and bring change to Washington.

For his part, Mr. Obama has injected a mocking tone to his criticism, the latest example coming on Saturday in a campaign video that outlined a five-step plan for Mr. Romney at the debate on Monday so he can “be a blundering success.”

With 17 days until the election, Mr. Romney is trying to turn the biting tone against his rivals.

“They've been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games,” Mr. Romney told a crowd Friday night in Daytona Beach, Fla. “The Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign.”

Mr. Biden, who co ncluded a two-day visit to Florida on Saturday afternoon, devoted most of his speech here to pointing out sharp contrasts with the Republican ticket.
But his voice turned serious at several points, reminding voters of the consequences of the election. He was accompanied by his daughter, Ashley Biden, a social worker, as he focused on pay equity and other women's issues.

“What do you think the chances are of Roe v. Wade surviving a Romney supreme court?” Mr. Biden asked.

Follow Jeff Zeleny on Twitter at @jeffzeleny.

Ryan Campaigns in Coal Country

Representative Paul D. Ryan signs an autograph after a campaign event at Pittsburgh International Airport.Eric Thayer for The New York TimesRepresentative Paul D. Ryan signs an autograph after a campaign event.

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. â€" Black and gold threatened to outshine the campaign staples of red, white and blue during Representative Paul D. Ryan's swing through coal country on Saturday, whether it was the yellow leaves burning through the mountain fog or the “Terrible Towels” that his supporters twirled above their heads. Normally a sign of support for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the towels distributed in an airport hangar just outside the city were instead emblazoned with the team of Romney-Ryan.

There were not enoug h towels for all of the more than 800 people who turned out to see Mr. Ryan on Saturday morning, so many instead held signs that said “Pennsylvania Believes” (in the usual color scheme). Mr. Ryan's appearance in Pennsylvania â€" added late into an existing trip to eastern Ohio â€" could be a sign that his strategists believe the campaign has stronger prospects there than once thought.

“Pennsylvania is going to send Mitt Romney to the White House,” the Republican nominee told the crowd shortly after entering amid chants of “Here we go, Ryan, here we go!”

Mr. Romney's standing does appear to be creeping up, as polls show the gap between him and President Obama narrowing.

“He's here because they understand that Pennsylvania's in play,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey as he introduced Mr. Ryan.

A Republican elected in 2010, Mr. Toomey predicted that the Republican ticket would win Pennsylvania.

“We hav e a victory in reach that is not yet in hand,” Mr. Toomey said. He urged the crowd to reach out to the “hundreds of thousands, if not more, Democrats and independents who share our values” and might be open to persuasion.

Conveniently for Dan Shepherd, his wife, Lynn, is one of those independent voters. She voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, and John McCain in the general election that year. This time, she went with Rick Santorum â€" a former Pennsylvania senator, in the G.O.P. primary, and especially after the debates, she's leaning strongly toward the Romney-Ryan ticket, but she wanted to hear Mr. Ryan talk about their economic plan.

“I want to make sure it's not just smoke and mirrors,” said Ms. Shepherd, whose son in college worries about getting a job after graduation and daughter in high school wonders about paying for college.

The front page of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette illustrated the complicated choice for Pennsylvania voters. Pennsylvania's September jobless rate “eclipses national average,” declared one headline. (Democrats blamed the Republican governor for the 8.6 percent figure, while Mr. Ryan told the crowd that the president's energy policy was costing thousands of jobs.) Another story, reprinted from The Los Angeles Times, said, “No evidence of al-Quaida role in Libya attack” â€" adding fuel to the the debate over whether the White House was straightforward about what was known about the attack on Sept. 11 in Benghazi.

And at the bottom of the front page was an ad for the event that Mr. Ryan would attend next, 75 miles away through the Ohio Valley. In Belmont, Ohio, Mr. Ryan urged nearly a thousand rain-soaked supporters to vote early in a state whose dominant political color is indisputably purple.

Likely Changes to Cabinet If There\'s a Second Obama Term

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both won second terms on promises of continuity but that did not stop them from a little housecleaning after their reelections. Each replaced half of his cabinet. President Obama, if he wins, may do the same.

Most attention has focused on the top-tier slots likely to come open after November or sometime in the first year of a second Obama term, like the heads of the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense and Justice. But some of the less prominent departments would also get new leadership.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary and only Republican in the cabinet, has suggested he would leave, although he hedged last month, telling reporters he was “going to talk to the president” first. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, and Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, may go. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, is waiting to see if his wife wins a congressional race.

The position of commerce secretary is already vacant and needs to be filled. Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank has kept up a busy public schedule in a possible bid to keep the job. Fred Hochberg, president of the Export-ImportBank, may be another candidate. Mr. Obama may also want to use it to reward a top supporter from the campaign.

Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, would like to be attorney general if Eric H. Holder Jr. steps down, which would open her position, one of the most challenging in government because it supervises nearly two dozen agencies and deals with hot-button issues like terrorism, natural disasters and immigration. Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative, plans to leave, though he could be a candidate for another position like commerce secretary.

But there would be some continuity. Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, has said he wants to stay and the White House expects Shaun Donovan, the housing secretary; Eric Shinse ki, the veterans affairs secretary; Hilda Solis, the labor secretary; and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, to remain as well.

Obama Says His Opponent Has a Case of \'Romnesia\'

President Obama greeted a group of female supporters after he spoke at a campaign rally at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Friday.Damon Winter/The New York TimesPresident Obama greeted supporters after he spoke at a campaign rally at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Friday.

FAIRFAX, VA. - Taking liberties with his opponent's last name, President Obama fired up a campaign rally here on Friday by blaming “Romnesia” for Mitt Romney's seemingly shifting positions on women's rights and other issues.

“Now, 18 days before the election, Mr. Severely Conservative wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year,” Mr. Obama said, before offering his admittedly nonexpert medica l opinion. “We got to name this condition that he's going though. I think it's called Romnesia.”

Mr. Obama's riff, before about 9,000 supporters at George Mason University, was just one part of a rally clearly focused to continue to appeal to women, a key demographic in this all-important swing state. After an introduction by Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, Mr. Obama emphasized in his remarks that he had proven himself the best candidate for women.

“When the next president and Congress could tip the balance of the highest court in the land in a way that turns back the clock for women and families for decades to come, you don't want someone who has to ask for binders of women,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Mr. Romney's remarks during Tuesday's presidential debate. “You want a president who has already appointed two unbelievable women to the Supreme Court.”

Mr. Romney's campaign responded quickly, issuing a statement by Barba ra Comstock, a Republican state lawmaker in Virginia.

“Women haven't forgotten how we've suffered over the last four years in the Obama economy with higher taxes, higher unemployment, and record levels of poverty,” Ms. Comstock said. “What is really frightening is that we know a second term for President Obama will bring devastating defense cuts that will cost Virginia over 130,000 jobs, more burdensome regulations and the biggest tax increase in history on our small businesses and families.”

Mr. Obama also criticized Mr. Romney for changing his positions on abortion, energy and other issues. Touting the benefits of his health care law, the president reassured the crowd that “Romnesia” is curable.

“If you come down with a case of Romnesia, and you can't seem to remember the policies that are still on your Web site, or the promises you've made over the six years you've been running for president, here's the good news: Obamacare covers pre-exist ing conditions.”

Along the line snaking through the campus, volunteers repeatedly urged supporters to sign up to help, waving forms and reminding everyone within earshot that Virginia is a battleground state this year. Highlighting that fact, this rally was Mr. Obama's 16th visit to Virginia in 2012.

Evelyn Wilson arrived more than three hours before the rally to claim her spot in the stadium on a cool, damp morning. Ms. Wilson, who traveled from nearby Reston, Va., with her husband to show her support for Mr. Obama, said she had been bombarded with robocalls, including the one that alerted her to this event.

Ms. Wilson, 69, said that this election could have major implications for women's rights among other important issues.

“A Republican win could set us back more than 60 years and reverse all the things we fought for and marched for,” Ms. Wilson said, citing the need to protect Roe v. Wade.

The fight for female voters intensified this w eek after the town-hall-style debate in New York, which included a question about equal pay for women that prompted a clash between the candidates over who could best serve women's needs.

That debate spilled onto the airwaves, with the Romney campaign immediately releasing an ad contending that Mr. Romney does not oppose contraception and believes abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. The Obama campaign hit back against that argument, using a clip of Mr. Romney from a CNN debate in 2007 in which Mr. Romney said he would be “delighted” to sign a bill banning all abortions.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

Newspapers in Salt Lake City, Tampa and Denver Endorse Obama

Mitt Romney may be something of a Utah native son, having helped turn around the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games, attended Brigham Young University and once owning property there. But on Friday, The Salt Lake Tribune tossed its support to President Obama, in a editorial titled “Too Many Mitts.”

Though the endorsement begins by acknowledging Mr. Romney's Utah and Salt Lake Olympics bona fides - “Romney managed to save the state from ignominy, turning the extravaganza into a showcase for the matchless landscapes, volunteerism and efficiency that told the world what is best and most beautiful about Utah and its people,” reads the second paragraph - the tone quickly changes. The editorial calls Mr. Romney a “shape-shifting nominee” and adds that the major question of the campaign is, ““Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”

“Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience,” reads the editorial. “Romn ey, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear.”

The Tribune editorial page, which endorsed Mr. Obama four years ago but went with President George W. Bush before that, concludes: “Therefore, our endorsement must go to the incumbent, a competent leader who, against tough odds, has guided the country through catastrophe and set a course that, while rocky, is pointing toward a brighter day. The president has earned a second term. Romney, in whatever guise, does not deserve a first.”

Mr. Romney's campaign declined to comment on the endorsement.

Mr. Obama picked up two other major newspaper endorsements Friday; both The Denver Post and The Tampa Bay Times threw their support to the president.

The Denver Post cited Mr. Romney's secretly recorded comments at a closed fund-raiser in May, in which he said he believed that 47 percent of Americans cons ider themselves “victims” and are dependent on the government, as one of the factors in their decision.

“His comments on the 47 percent of Americans who refuse to ‘take personal responsibility and care for their lives' were a telling insight into his views and a low point of the campaign,” The Post wrote. “Obama, on the other hand, has shown throughout his term that he is a steady leader who keeps the interests of a broad array of Americans in mind.”

The Orlando Sentinel, however, endorsed Mr. Romney, a flip from its 2008 support of Mr. Obama.

“We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years,” The Sentinel wrote. “For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race.”

Follow Ashley Parker on Twitter at @AshleyRParker.

Democratic Money Pours Into \'Super PACs\'

Three leading Democratic “super PACs” raised more money in September than in any other month this election cycle, officials said, underscoring the growing willingness of wealthy Democrats to bankroll groups whose existence they had long opposed.

Priorities USA Action, the group backing President Obama, will report raising $15.2 million in September, thanks in part to aggressive fund-raising by party leaders like former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. The group has already reserved millions of dollars in advertising for the closing weeks of the campaign.

Majority PAC, which supports Senate Democrats, raised $10.4 million in September and has brought in an additional $9.7 million through mid-October, officials announced on Friday, a period during which the party's chances of holding a majority in the chamber appeared to be improving. House Majority PAC, the Congressional Democrats' super PAC arm, raised $5.9 million, a figure the gro up said it was on pace to double this month.

“Democrats know that this race is even closer than we thought it would be, and if we're going to close this deal everybody has to get involved,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for Priorities USA.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee said they raised about $181 million in September, slightly more than Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee, which raised $170 million, according to officials. Mr. Obama's campaign, filing on Friday, reported spending $115 million in September and ending the month with about $99 million in cash on hand for the rest of the campaign.

But heavy spending by Democrats over the spring and summer on registration, organizing, and early voting turnout has left the committee in the red, with $4.6 million in cash on hand at the end of September and debts of $20.4 million.

The Republican committee, by contrast, has amassed a huge war chest for the final days of the campaign. The party began October with $82.6 million in the bank, much of which can be spent to match Mr. Obama on the airwaves. Mr. Romney was expected to file his campaign disclosures on Saturday.

Despite fears among Republicans that Mr. Romney's political difficulties in September would hurt his fund-raising, Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing his White House bid, brought in $14 million, more than in the past two months combined, and began October with $16 million in the bank, according to disclosures filed on Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

On Thursday, the group reserved $12 million for six days of television commercials, one of the largest such reservations this election cycle.

Most super PACs are required to file detailed disclosures with the election commission by midnight Saturday, documents that will shed light on the sources of the contributions and how much money they had on hand going into October.

But early disclosure s filed on Friday by Restore Our Future revealed that close to $4 million of the group's September contributions came from corporations, suggesting that businesses have begun to take full advantage of regulatory and court rulings that legalized unlimited corporate giving to independent political committees.

In some cases, the true source of the corporate money is hard to trace. An entity called KSMK Venture II, LLC, which listed an address in Peabody, Mass., contributed $200,000 to Restore Our Future on Sept. 11, bringing its total contributions to the pro-Romney super PAC to $250,000.

KSMK's listed address is the headquarters of Christian Book Distributors, a Goliath in the world of Christian book and music sales. The company's president, Ray Hendrickson, has contributed more than $70,000 to the Romney campaign and its joint fund-raising committee with the Republican National Committee.

A $200,000 donation from Meuchadim of Maine, LP, which listed an addre ss in Hollywood, Fla., appears to be connected to Simon Falic, the chairman of Duty Free Americas, the chain of airport duty-free shops, who is a major pro-Israel donor.

The sources of other corporate donations are more obvious. Greenpoint Technologies, which contributed $250,000 to Restore Our Future, is a company based outside Seattle that builds high-end aircraft interiors for “private individuals and heads-of-state clients,” according to its Web site.

Scott Goodey, Greenpoint's president and chief executive, and his wife, Julie, have contributed at least $100,000 to the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Individual donors contributed $11 million to Restore Our Future in September. Much of it came from a few wealthy Romney supporters who are mainstays of the Republican super PAC world.

Bob Perry, a Texas home builder who is one of the biggest donors to conservative candidates and causes, contributed $2 million, bringing his total donations to Restore Our Future to $9 million - more than 10 percent of the group's war chest this year.

Stanley Herzog, a Missouri construction company owner, contributed $1 million, as did Robert McNair, the billionaire owner of the Houston Texans football team.

Follow Nicholas Confessore on Twitter at @nickconfessore.

A version of this article appeared in print on 10/20/2012, on page A14 of the NewYork edition with the headline: With Growing Willingness, Donors Come to Aid of Democratic ‘Super PACs'.

The Caucus Click: Waiting for a Signature

A young supporter waited for President Obama to sign his cast at a campaign event on Friday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The Secret Service made the young man put away the marker before the president could greet him.Damon Winter/The New York Times A young supporter waited for President Obama to sign his cast at a campaign event on Friday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The Secret Service made the young man put away the marker before the president could greet him.

Mystery Donors Dot Restore Our Future\'s Campaign Filing

The monthly campaign finance filing Friday by the pro-Romney “super PAC” Restore Our Future was dotted with contributions from corporate entities whose identities were often not entirely clear.

An entity called KSMK Venture II L.L.C., which listed an address in Peabody, Mass., contributed $200,000 to Restore Our Future on Sept. 11, bringing its total contributions to the super PAC to $250,000. It is not obvious on its face what KSMK is, but its address is the headquarters of Christian Book Distributors, a Goliath in the world of Christian book and music sales. The company's president, Ray Hendrickson, has contributed more than $70,000 to the Romney campaign and its joint fund-raising committee with the Republican National Committee.

Similarly, Hedge Holdings Development Company L.L.C. contributed $200,000 to Restore Our Future. The company is registered in Delaware, with little identifying information. But it shares a Manhattan address with Mason Capital, a hedge fund, run by Kenneth Garschina, who is on the board of trustees for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank whose chairman is Paul Singer, the hedge fund mogul and a major Romney donor.

Another $100,000 came from a Nashville entity, Ebon Falcon L.L.C., a real estate company owned by Representative Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican, and her husband, David, who heads a forensic sciences firm.

A $200,000 donation from something called Meuchadim of Maine L.P., which actually listed an address in Hollywood, Fla., appears to be connected to Simon Falic, chairman of Duty Free Americas, the chain of airport duty-free shops, who is a major pro-Israel donor.

Some of the donations were tied to post office boxes, including $100,000 from Palmer American Holding Inc., in Garden City, Kan. The company appears connected to Cecil O'Brate, chairman of a manufacturer of steel and fiberglass storage tanks.

Kitty Bennett contributed research

The Weekend Word: All in the Details

In Today's Times:

  • In business and politics, Mitt Romney has proved an executive who savors the details. He is unable to resist burrowing into the raw data usually left to junior aides and is intent on taking his time when it comes to big decisions. But the traits that helped his career climb are untested in the unique environment of the White House, Michael Barbaro, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Wines report.
  • With examples like Anita Dunn, who advises President Obama while working separately as a corporate strategist with clients who seek to influence policy, the limitations of the president's attempts to change the culture of Washington are apparent, Eric Lichtblau and Eric Lipton report.
  • Microsoft gave itself broader leeway to gather data from users of its free, Web-based products on Friday, a move not unlike the one made by Google this year that was decried by privacy advocates. That Microsoft's policy change went relativel y unnoticed speaks to the confusion surrounding Internet consumer privacy, Edward Wyatt and Nick Wingfield report.
  • It may not be obvious from the outside, but party insiders say the jockeying for prime administration posts has already begun, with potential candidates subtly volunteering for campaign work and raising their public profiles, Peter Baker and Ashley Parker report.

Weekly Address:

  • Highlighting signs of progress in the housing market, Mr. Obama used his weekly address to talk about helping Americans refinance their mortgages, a move that he said could save each homeowner about $3,000 per year. “I just wish it didn't require an act of Congress,” he said, laying the blame on Republicans for barring the plan he offered in February. While acknowledging that it's unlikely that Congress will act on his proposal before the election - Congress is in recess while lawmakers campaign back home - Mr. Obama urged voters to pressure th eir representatives.

Washington Happenings:

  • Mr. Obama will spend the weekend at Camp David.
  • The White House features free tours of its gardens on Saturday. The National Park Service will distribute tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion starting at 8 a.m.
  • The Army Ten-Miler will take place Sunday, beginning near the Pentagon.

The Costs of Becoming Disabled

Paul Sullivan, in his Wealth Matters column this week, discusses a subject that is often overlooked - disability insurance. While it is difficult to figure out the risk of becoming disabled sometime in your working life, the benefits of having the insurance are easy to determine, since it pays you some portion of your regular salary.

But, as Paul points out, the cost of disability insurance can be $18.60 per $1,000 of coverage for individuals, with a 90-day waiting period before the coverage starts. Most people who have the insurance get it through their employer, and group policies are less expensive. Even so, life insurance costs far less - 22 cents per $1,000.

Do you have disability insurance? And if so, have you ever had to use it? Tell us about your experience.

When You Ask a Senator or Member of Congress for Help

In this weekend's Your Money column, I remind readers of a consumer service that I managed to forget about myself and certainly never wrote about before: the full-time staff members who work for senators and members of Congress who do nothing but help constituents with problems (often financial ones) that somehow involve a federal agency. In many offices, they refer to this as constituent service, and the people who do the work are often called caseworkers.

While some of these staff members (and their bosses, the elected officials) are more efficient and interested in the job than others, they can and do help people who are having a hard time dealing with the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the regulators who oversee mortgage lenders.

I had room for only a few examples in the column, so let's hear about some from you now. Please compose a comment telling us about the request for help that you made, when you made it and to whom and what the result (if any) was. Tales from state representatives are welcome, too. Stories of failure are fair game, as always.

Also, my guess is that a few actual caseworkers will turn up here,  too. Don't be shy, please; share your favorite success stories and tales of crazy people calling as well, even if you have to leave your current or former employer out of it. And do let us know which federal agencies are the toughest to deal with. I hear that immigration is one of them.