Mayor Bloomberg has been in office for more than seven years, and as a billionaire, he has a First Amendment right to spend as much of his own money to seek re-election as he chooses. We are correct to ask him to place a voluntary limit on his own campaign spending as he seeks re-election in 2009.
He successfully convinced the New York City Council to overturn two referenda and to provide Mayor Bloomberg with a path to a third consecutive term as Mayor. At Manhattan Viewpoint, we have opposed term limits in general, but we were outraged to see the New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg conspire to defeat the votes of the people of NYC by eliminating term limits twice supported by wide margins in city-vote plebiscites. In October 2008, Manhattan Viewpoint begged the Mayor and the City Council to let the people decide whether they had changed their minds and were prepared to accept longer term limits or no term limits. We would have been supportive of a referendum to eliminate term limits, but we cannot support the anti-democratic and unfair approach that the City Council and Mayor chose to undertake. http://manhattanviewpoint.blogspot.com/2008/10/limits-of-term-limits-in-manhattan-and.html Because the Mayor has demonstrated a willingness to operate in an anti-democratic fashion, we suggest that agreeing to limit his 2009 campaign spending may help him earn back the credibility he lost in the effort to overturn the will of the people.
Bloomberg's Campaign Spending
Mayor Bloomberg spent $78 million to win re-election in 2005, and he spent $74 million when he ran for the first time in 2001. His Democratic opponent spent $9.5 million on his entire campaign to defeat the Mayor, while Mayor Bloomberg spent nearly four times that amount on television and radio advertising alone. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/06/nyregion/metrocampaigns/06mayor.html He received nearly 60% of the vote in his 2005 re-election bid and is considered a favorite in the 2009 race as well.
Nonetheless, all indications are that he plans to spend at least as much seeking re-election in 2009 as he spent in 2005.
New York City's Novel Campaign Finance Approach
In NYC, public financing of campaigns for public office is a reality, and the program providing that funding is very generous. It provides that all qualified candidates seeking New York City elected positions (City Council, Borough President, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Mayor) receive a six to one match for every contribution received from a New York City resident up to $175 per contributor. To qualify, candidates must raise above a minimum level of campaign contributions from above a minimum number of individuals (for the Mayor's race, a candidate would qualify if she raises $250,000 from at least 1,000 people, with a maximum of $175 per contributor counting toward the minimum dollar level). http://www.nyccfb.info/candidates/candidates/limits/2009.htm?sm=candidates_
The six to one match comes with one large string attached. Total campaign spending is capped. For the Mayor's race, a candidate accepting the public financing in 2009 can spend only $6.2mm in the primary and an additional $6.2mm in the general election. Therefore, assuming the Democratic nominee for Mayor in 2009 is a candidate who has agreed to participate in the New York City campaign funding system, Mayor Bloomberg will face an opponent who will be limited to $12.4 million of total spending versus the Mayor's 2005 precedent of $78 million of spending.
Voluntary Spending Limit
With a seven-year record, very high name recognition, and control of the largest municpal government in the United States, one could argue that Mayor Bloomberg should be able to win re-election without outspending his opponent nearly 10 to 1 as he did in 2005. A voluntary limit of $38 million would give Mayor Bloomberg a 3 to 1 spending advantage over the Democratic nominee, and the advantage would be greater than the 3 to 1 ratio appears.
Mayor Bloomberg faces no primary. He is an independent candidate and will not be seeking the nomination of any major party. If he seeks the nomination of some of the minor parties, he will do so without a material challenge and will not need to finance a campaign to win those nominations. The Democratic nominee will face at least one serious opponent in 2009. By the time mid-September rolls around and the Democratic Party chooses a nominee, the Democratic nominee will be low on cash from the primary fight. That nominee will have to unite the voters he voted for her with those who voted for her opponent, and she will only be allowed to spend $6.2 million against Mayor Bloomberg. Therefore, a $38 million voluntary limit from the Mayor would give him a six to one spending advantage in the general election along with incumbency advantage and the advantage of a lack of a primary challenge to fight prior to the general election. Of course, the Mayor should not be expected to maintain a voluntary spending limit if his opponent is not subject to the spending limits.
When asked about imposing a spending limit on his own campaign last week, Mayor Bloomberg became aggrivated. http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/testy-mayor-dodges-questions-on-campaign-spending/ He refused to address the question and labeled it ridiculous. In reality, the question is not worthy of ridicule, but his reaction might create problems for him as he seeks to defend his record and connect with voters in these very troubling times. Voters may properly ask whether the Mayor has become too imperial - changing laws created by the voters themselves and seeking a third term as the chief executive of our great city with his vast wealth potentially scaring away challengers and being used to monopolize the media time against the Democratic nominee in 2009. A voluntary spending limit would indicate that the Mayor is willing to allow the voters to make their choice without attempting to overwhelm them with his propoaganda. He would be saying that a six to one spending advantage is all he needs to win.
Above all, the Mayor should be careful not to dismiss the concern about campaign spending. In doing so, he might remind voters that he spends nearly every weekend in Bermuda and travels to and from Bermuda is his personal jet. He is susceptible to being considered out-of-touch, and stating that agreeing to spend no more than $38 million of his own money on his campaign is "on of the most ridiculous things [he has] ever heard" suggests he is not yet trying to be in-touch.