Friday, February 6, 2009

The-Not-So “Ridiculous” “Outrage” of the Mayor’s Campaign Spending: Getting the Whole Story

(Asked about capping his campaign expenditures, Mayor Bloomberg above: “Ridiculous”and “an outrage.”)

In the last 24 hours there’s been a reporting flurry about whether the Mayor Bloomberg will limit his campaign spending when he runs for a third term as mayor. The question is whether we can expect a digging down in future news reports that will lay out the whole story.

As three examples of what is being reported and how far the digging down goes so far, we can point to a story last night in the New York Times, (February 5, 2009, Testy Mayor Dodges Questions on Campaign Spending, by Michael Barbaro), and to this morning’s stories on WNYC and NY1. All three stories concern the rebuffed efforts of an Observer reporter and a NY1 reporter to get the mayor to speak to the question of whether he will limit his campaign spending to the level of his rivals.

The Times Story: The Mayor Resists the Question of His Campaign Spending

The Times short story, (preceding a longer front-page story today we will talk about later) was essentially only about how the mayor resisted answering three attempts the reporters made to ask him the question (Mayor: I don’t understand your question. I am not going to talk about the campaign. … I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.) It does later quote the mayor with this much of an answer:

And I will self-finance. There is no reason for me to take public money. I don’t need the public money, and I think it would be an outrage if I took it. Period. End of story.
As we will review, that is absolutely NOT the “end of story.” What’s more, part of the story is the mayor’s effort to misdirect the sort of “outrage” to which he refers.

The WNYC Story: Resulting Expenditures of Taxpayer Money, Yes or No

The WNYC story (News: Financing New York's Elections, by Bob Hennelly, February 05, 2009) provides as its focus another Bloomberg quote that is misleading, and it also provides some correction. From the WNYC story (emphasis supplied):

. . . Bloomberg bristled at the questions and reminded one persistent newspaper reporter his campaign spending has an upside.

BLOOMBERG: I am not spending any taxpayer money so I don't know. I'll make sure that when it comes to advertising we will decide you know make sure we include you in that so you will be able to get a salary and eat.

REPORTER: Under the City's campaign finance law, publicly financed Mayoral candidates can qualify for millions of additional matching funds, if they face a non-participating opponent like Bloomberg. He spent almost $160 million in his first two runs.
In other words, Bloomberg IS causing the expenditures of additional taxpayer money.

The NY1 Story: Clearer That Bloomberg’s Refusal of a Level Playing Field Is Triggering Extra Public Spending

The NY1 story, like WNYC, reported on the extraordinary past spending by Bloomberg (WNYC set the figure at $160 million and NY1 at $ 155 million) and that the mayor “dismissed the idea of capping his own spending as ridiculous.” It showed a clip of Bloomberg saying that the idea that he should take public money was an “outrage” (the idea is actually only that he should cap his spending, not necessarily “take public money”). The story was clearer (but perhaps not clear enough) about how extra public money will be spent because Bloomberg refuses to cap his spending:

Bloomberg’s spending could triger extra matching funds for his challengers. Under city law if a self-financed candidate spends more than three times the spending limit for publicly financed candidates then the limit for publicly financed candidates is lifted and more public matching funds become available.
Digging Down, the Next Steps: What’s Still Missing From The Complete Story

Michael Barbaro, the writer of last night’s short Times article we mentioned at the start of this piece, is also the author of another long story on the front page of the Times today that gives a flavorful hint of how much more there is to report on the subject of Bloomberg’s campaign spending (Bloomberg Campaigners Taste the High Life, by Michael Barbaro, February 5, 2009).

We will get back to Barbaro’s new front page article, but first let us point out what we believe are other major aspects of the story that need to be addressed which, as informative as the new Barbaro front-page story is, are largely left out. They are also unaddressed by the other stories we have been describing above.

Summary: Comment in to last Night’s Times Article

We provided a comment to last night’s Times article (comment #12) which roughly summarizes the overall situations as follows.

The New York Times editorial page recently recommended that Bloomberg limit himself, like other candidates, to spending no more than $12.2 million. (See: Mayor Bloomberg’s Opportunity, November 9, 2008)- Note, contrary to what the mayor might have people infer, the Times is specifically not calling for Bloomberg to take public money, only to cap his spending and somewhat level the playing field, which would thus also save the public money because the so-called “Daddy Warbucks” clause would not be triggered.

The Times proposes: “Like other candidates in the system, the mayor would be limited to spending $6.1 million for a contested primary and another $6.1 million for the general election.”

The Times has reported that Bloomberg plans to directly spend $80 to $100 million on his next campaign for mayor. (See: Mayor Plans an $80 Million Campaign, by David W. Chen and Raymond Hernandez, October 9, 2008.)

And IN ADDITION the Times reported that Mr. Bloomberg “can now claim to be No. 1" in that he is “the leading individual living donor in the United States.” He did this by giving, in 2008, $235 million to “1,200 organizations.” (See: At $235 Million, Bloomberg Was Biggest Giver in U.S., by David W. Chen, January 26, 2009.)

AND the Times has run stories about Bloomberg’s abuse of charities to promote his political goals, including a front page story about the extension of term limits: Bloomberg Enlists His Charities in Bid to Stay, by Michael Barbaro and David W. Chen, October 17, 2008.

Treating all of this, quite justifiably, as campaign spending (since Mr. Bloomberg does not draw a line at using his charity for political influence) Bloomberg is spending upwards of $335 million in campaign money ($100 + $235 +?). Consider also that expenditures (or “contributions”) in past and future years should probably be thrown into the total.

We noted that for more on this people can see: Noticing New York’s The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity” (Monday, February 2, 2009).

Beyond the Summary of the Comment

Noticing New York’s article goes beyond the summary of the comment. It extensively examines the breadth of and influence of Bloombergian wealth and charitable giving. It further examines the costly harm that Bloomberg is doing to city development by selling off the public realm and suggests that we need to question whether his recent ten-fold increase of wealth in some part derives from his being mayor and is one way or another at public expense.

For instance, just on the subject of conflicts: Yesterday, Bloomberg said of his opponents’ decision as to accepting funds and opting for public campaign funds: “They have to decide what they are going to do.” Our article points out that Bloomberg doesn’t leave that decision entirely in their hands. He has used his charities for political purposes by having Patricia Harris, (his First Deputy Mayor) chastise the recipients of his philanthropic funds for giving campaign contributions to his political opponents. The same deputy mayor oversees other largess administered by City Hall.

$$$ Shushing the Answer to the Question “Who other than Bloomberg?”

As dissatisfaction with Bloomberg mounts, Bloomberg proponents have sometimes ventured, as if it were a positive argument for the billionaire’s rule, “Who other than Bloomberg?” “Who other than Bloomberg?” is a good and valid question to which there are some good answers but the answer is not going to be available and we are not going to find out about the merits of Bloomberg’s opponents if Bloomberg is allowed to use his wealth to “pay” not to contribute to his opponents’ campaigns.

Today’s Front Page Times Story

The Times article today makes clear how lavishly those working on the Bloomberg campaign are treated, including bonuses, (a $25,000 bonus is mentioned and two $300,000 ones for a top campaign aide) and what that means:
And as he seeks to entice talent to come aboard the campaign, and possibly to a third term in City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg wields a powerful tool: the perks of inhabiting his world.

* * * *

Mr. Bloomberg, who is renowned for sparing little expense on employees at his company (they traditionally received 15 percent raises every year), offered campaign workers free health insurance. He outfitted campaign offices with a wall of televisions, flat-panel computers and Bloomberg financial terminals.

Free food was always on hand — sandwiches, soda, chips, ice cream sandwiches and popcorn. (The 2005 bill to Coca Cola was $17,000, records show.)

In 2001, the campaign even rented a Manhattan apartment for Mr. Cunningham, who lived in Albany at the time. (The monthly rent was $4,100.)
It describes how the money flow creates some questionable circumventions:
Those who joined the mayor at City Hall enjoy the kind of first-class international travel reserved for chief executives and heads of state. Mr. Bloomberg, the most traveled mayor in New York City history, has taken aides to Athens and Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince and Dubrovnik, Berlin and Belfast, to name a few.

A spokesman said that Mr. Bloomberg pays for nearly all the travel himself and considers it a gift to the city. But the approach also allows his administration to shield details of the travel — itineraries, hotels, restaurant venues — from public scrutiny.
Once again we consider news of Mr. Bloomberg’s “gifts” to be bad news. For more on this see, as noted, The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity” (Monday, February 2, 2009).

By the way, going back to yesterday’s press conference, was Bloomberg joking about paying off the reporter who questioned him about capping his campaign expenditures? What did he mean when he said to the reporter:
I'll make sure that when it comes to advertising we will decide you know make sure we include you in that so you will be able to get a salary and eat.

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