Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bloomberg's Billions

Is there any better proof of the insanity of our campaign finance regime than the prospect of Michael Bloomberg spending a billion dollars of his own money---projected to be more than the combined sums spent by the Democratic and Republican candidates and parties, as well as third-party expenditures---to buy the Presidency? The "billionaire loophole" arises because Supreme Court doctrine since Buckley v. Valeo permits contribution limits but not spending limits. A wealthy person spending his or her own money to get elected is not contributing to any campaign, just spending, and thus avoids the limits.

Bloomberg's likely impact on the race is uncertain. If Rudy Giuliani captures the Republican nomination, Bloomberg could help the Democratic nominee. Christian conservative voters would be unhappy with the entire field and some would therefore stay home, while some number of moderate Republicans made uncomfortable by Giuliani's authoritarian style might stray to Bloomberg. On the other hand, if the Republican party nominates a candidate who is conservative on social issues, it's easy to see Bloomberg syphoning more votes from the Democratic nominee. Much will also depend on where Bloomberg stands on the Iraq war. His personal website has an issues section that does not mention the war. (I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.) That's forgivable, I suppose, in someone who is currently Mayor of New York and not an announced candidate for President. If Bloomberg does become a candidate, however, he'll have to take some position on the war, and whichever way he goes will likely have an impact on whether his candidacy hurts the Republican or Democrat more.

Notice that I'm talking about Bloomberg's impact as a spoiler. Given the track record of American third party candidates, it's just not plausible for Bloomberg to get elected as an independent. So what gives? The answer, I'm afraid, is the obvious one: ego. As a New York resident, I can say that on the whole, Bloomberg has been a very good mayor. If Giuliani proved that New York City is not ungovernable, Bloomberg has proved that the city is governable without the need to antagonize large numbers of people. At the same time, however, Bloomberg has shown himself to be fond of the big gesture for the sake of the big gesture. His quest to bring the Olympics to New York---an insane idea that would have been a financial, traffic and security nightmare---is emblematic. At some point, Bloomberg was persuaded that having the Olympics in New York City would be glorious, and no amount of reasoning would stop him. Likewise, I imagine that some sycophant said to Bloomberg that given what a good job he's done as mayor, he would be a terrific President, and because he would have serious problems capturing the nomination of either major party, he figured he could just self-finance.

Ours is a badly flawed system for nominating Presidential candidates. Under the right circumstances---if, say, both parties nominated racists or extremists of one stripe or another---a viable third-party candidacy would be a welcome safety valve. But we have nothing of the sort here. On most major issues on which he has taken a position, Bloomberg's views place him in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, which is not surprising, given that he was a Democrat before running for NYC mayor as a Republican (because he figured he couldn't get the Democratic nomination). Bloomberg would add precious little to the race except uncertainty and the possibility that a majority of voters actually oppose the winning candidate. That didn't work out so well the last time it happened.


KipEsquire said...

"As a New York resident, I can say that on the whole, Bloomberg has been a very good mayor."

As a New York resident, I can say that on the whole, Bloomberg has been a tolerable placeholder (at best).

Bloomberg is a hyper-paternalistic nanny-stater who envisions himself as a philosopher-king / benevolent dictator who is entitled, not just by his having been elected but also by his innate superiority, to ram unpopular policies down his constituents' throats.

Also keep in mind that he has been dealing with a neophyte City Council swept in by a ludicrous term limit purge. So it was relatively easy for him to look "successful" as an executive.

But you are absolutely correct that it is insane, utterly insane, to suggest that the First Amendment permits a campaign finance scheme where Bloomberg could spend $70 million to be re-elected mayor but I could not spend one-tenth of one percent of that to oppose him. Sheer madness.

Benjam said...

i disagree with your critique and analysis in three main respects. first, your critique of bloomber seems a bit unfair to say he is motivated by "ego." you think rudy and mccaain have no ego in this? dodd's run and biden's are pure vanity. i just cannot see how bloomberg is more guilty than the rest of the field. as for his lack of positioning on the was, that simply makes him a smart politician. do you think he really supports the war? since he will need to stake out a position if he runs, i cannot see any reason to make that an issue.

second, by making the assertion that he cannot win, you are becoming a part of the CW echo chamber. those same voices say that Ron Paul should not be in the debates, and so forth. bloomberg bought a mayoralty. corzine bought a governorship. there is absolutely no reason to think mike cannot buy the presidency. i think its bound to happen eventually, for better or worse.

let's see, where are the federalists, the anti-feds, the whigs, and the torries? they were all parts of the two-party duopoly which were replaced at some point in history by a "third" party. history doesnt validate the notion that the two existing parties are cemented into place. rather, it confirms that parties grow old and die. i would like nothing more than to see bloomberg engage in the sort of party-building endeavor that could help splinter and kill the republican party.

americans deserve a broader range of electoral choices. the framers never intended to create a party-based system. the idea of a two-party system with each party racing toward the median voter (the center) deprives americans of any real choice.

i do believe that the nominating system is rotten, but is it more rotten than the NYC machine that produced freddy ferrer, not to mention ruth messenger? i would like to see money taken out of the system, but not at the expense of the first amendment. my presciption would be to create real electoral reform which would allow third parties to participate in a manner other than as spolier, without the need for a billionaire figurehead.

Michael C. Dorf said...

I might agree with benjam if there were a shred of evidence that Bloomberg was serving the historic function that third parties have played over the years: either replacing one of the main parties or bringing to the national political conversation some issue that has been previously absent. And even as for that first function, all the examples Benjam gives are pre-civil war. Since then, Hofstadter's observation basically holds. "Third parties are like bees. After they sting, they die." (That's from memory and probably not an exact quote.) The problem here is that Bloomberg has no evident sting.

The partisan moderate said...

I tend to discount most of the professor's political analysis. He is the same person that believes Obama is a moderate. As the director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute points out, "But an analysis by the well-respected and impartial National Journal found Obama's voting record in his first two years in the Senate was the most liberal of any Democratic presidential candidate."

I believe Bloomberg has been an above average mayor by New York City standards but is considerably overrated. He has mainly benefited from being good cop to Giuliani’s bad cop. Bloomberg, gained all the benefits of Giuliani’s actions and has been given a free pass from civil liberties organizations on issues such as smoking and other nanny-state measures because they prefer almost anyone to Giuliani. Same goes true for civil rights groups.

He has not been a fiscal conservative. Anyone who has taken an into finance class knows that it is not good for a business to have excess cash flows as the business tends to make poor investments and overly compensate executives. The same holds true in government. Bloomberg raised taxes to cover a budget shortfall when he first entered office. Now we have a surplus and instead of cutting taxes to make up for the previous increase, instead he is spending the money on raises for unions. He has not been fiscally conservative as he has shown unwillingness to cut the rate of growth in New York City. He also backed down in the transit strike last year and stupidly once again renewed the contract so that it expires during Christmas time, which gives the unions increased leverage in threatening a strike during New York’s busiest shopping period.

Although, he has kept in place many of the successful crime-fighting policies of his predecessor but Bloomberg always plays the PC card. A couple of years back an Italian-American with Gotti ties was accused of assaulting a black man in an ethnic neighborhood. Bloomberg, instead of saying let's wait for the evidence to come out, called the guy a scum and presumed guilt. What he did was wrong and the ALCU should have been all over him.

As for the Professor’s comments about Bloomberg’s electability, he is right but for the wrong reasons. Bloomberg, cannot be elected because he is out of step with the electorate. He is to the left of every credible Democratic candidate on social issues, such as guns, religion, and abortion. The issues which he is more partial to the Republican party such as a hawkish foreign policy and promotion of free trade, are politically unpopular. Perot, had support because he was able to appeal to Reagan-Democrats. If you looked at Perot’s positions, most enjoyed majority support in this country. Bloomberg’s social liberalism combined with his so-called fiscal conservatism in many ways the antitheses of the Reagan Democrats. Bloomberg, could conceivably poll in the double digits but he cannot win. Ironically, he will take away more from Democrats than Republicans. White collar yuppies and suburban soccer moms, who mind the populist Lou Dobbs economic policies will be most open to a Bloomberg run, and the majority of these people are Democrats.

BTW- Professor Dorf, there is little chance that Bloomberg runs if Clinton is the Democratic nominee or Giuliani is the Republican nominee.

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