New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given new meaning to the great American tradition of buying elections. The billionaire two-term mayor has become history’s all-time champion for spending his own money as he runs for an unprecedented third term.
According to press reports, Mr. Bloomberg, by the Nov. 3 election, will have laid out more than $250 million in his three campaigns for office. He has spent $85 million so far in the current run and is on pace to boost that to between $110 million and $140 million before the election, and he doesn’t even accept a salary for the job.
Not that he can’t afford it. The media mogul has an estimated $16 billion with which to play. It would be difficult for him to run out of cash. In fact, he could pay nearly every city voter a nice hunk of change to cast a ballot for him and never miss the money. If that were legal, of course.
It is what this kind of expenditure says about the electoral system that is scary. It seems a clear perversion of the democratic process, where a person’s election to public office should be based on characteristics other than how much wealth he has. But that’s not the American way these days. It is safe to say that the sheer magnitude of the amount tips the scales overwhelmingly, leaving few if any other candidates in a viable place to challenge him. Mr. Bloomberg’s opponent, William C. Thompson, has spent $6 million, a tidy sum unless compared to the mayor’s, which is 14 times greater.
Without trying to judge Mr. Bloomberg’s achievements, it is safe to say that neither he nor the office he holds is worth all that. Actually, if one wanted to put the best face possible on what a spokesman for Mr. Thompson is quoted as calling an obscenity, it is the benefit to his city. All this money has been spent in New York City, where Mr. Bloomberg has been pumping some $1 million a day into the economy. Restaurants alone have so far been paid $322,521; another $293,953 has been spent on transportation.
The No. 1 expenditure, unsurprisingly, has been for advertising. Television has sucked up $30.5 million of the $47 million plunked down for promoting the mayor’s cause so far. Mr. Bloomberg also reportedly has handsomely paid his top city-hall aides who have given up their jobs to help in his campaign. He has 100 paid campaign workers, which puts his operation in the top 3 percent of all New York City employers.
How does the mayor justify spending what only a few years ago would have been considered enough money to feed a large segment of the nation’s poor for a year or longer? One news report noted that Mr. Bloomberg’s spending this year comes close to equaling the budget of his hometown of Medford, Mass., with a population of 55,000. His aides claim it is because he is an independent who takes nothing from special interests, unlike his opponent who practices politics as usual. The implication is that his financially disadvantaged Democratic opponent, Mr. Thompson, owes what little he has to those who stand to benefit from his election. If so, they haven’t been terribly generous and shouldn’t expect much if he somehow manages to climb to victory from under all those Bloomberg greenbacks dumped on his head.
Bloomberg strategists apparently believe the huge outlays are the only way to overcome some voter animosity over his maneuvering around the two-term limit. But the enormity of the spending is almost hard to comprehend. After eight years in office, one would think that the mayor’s record and name recognition alone would count for something, preventing him from having to put out as much as earlier campaigns. After all, everyone knows who he is.
In the past, there has been talk about him making a run at the White House. Can you imagine how much he would spend then? John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph P., said after the very close 1960 election that he didn’t pay for a landslide for his son. If it turns out Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t win big, it will have been a huge waste of money.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.