It's teacher hunting season!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weiner, Emperor Bloomberg's ad millions and the curse of Buckley v. Valeo

It is a terrible statement on American democracy that a candidate is able to buy an election. Anthony Weiner recognized this squarely in his public statement on why he is dropping out of the mayoral race.
Appearing at his old family home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with his girlfriend, Huma Abedin, a top aide for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at his side, he gave his public dropping-out announcement.
He cited the usual serve his constituents, time with his family and dear ones and so on reasons, and he cited (emperor, I mean) mayor Michael Bloomberg's record-breaking electioneering spending.
Even more spot-on was his op-ed contribution to the New York Times, "Why I'm Not Running for Mayor".
He wrote:
. . . It’s for this reason that I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about whether I should run for mayor. While that’s been the question on my mind, a lot of people I have talked to have asked a different question: “How can you win?”

It’s easy to understand where they are coming from. All you need to do is see the avalanche of television ads for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose huge war chest and incumbency can be daunting. It’s also easy to understand the desire to focus on the horse race aspect of a campaign.
. . . .
But it’s also true that there is no escaping the reality that political campaigns have become longer and more negative, and often seem focused on style and non-issues instead of substance. The mayor is expected to spend $80 million of his own money in the race, more than 10 times what candidates who have not opted out of the city’s public campaign finance program, as Mr. Bloomberg has, can spend in a primary.
. . . .
With spending like that, regular debates about real issues will probably take a back seat to advertising. As a native of Brooklyn, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor a good scrap. But I’m disappointed because I’m increasingly convinced a substantive debate simply isn’t likely right now.

The sad truth for a political candidate without deep pockets is that while money isn’t the only thing, it does matter. Campaign finance laws are vital, not just to keep special interests from dominating campaigns, but also because in this case they could help prevent vast disparities in spending.

The other truth is that the Supreme Court decision in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, which allows candidates to spend however much they want on their own races, makes it possible for billionaires to swamp middle-class candidates.

Well, kudos to Congressman Weiner for citing the Warren Burger era Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo decision.
This was an ignominious decision for democracy. The decision struck down limitations that candidates can spend on their elections. The authors of the Bill of Rights amendments to the U.S. Constitution did not live in our time. Surely, they could not envision the lop-sided ability of corporations or even individuals to sway public opinion. Surely, they were thinking of the right to produce and disseminate broadsheets, posters or newspapers, not the blanketing of every imaginable venue of public advertising, in unbelievable volume.
The mayor is swamping the city with mailed literature, regular advertisements on all the commercial television stations one-half year!!! prior to the election, along with billboards, subway and bus ads, radio advertisements.
The mayor's spending rate is double that of his level of spending at this time four years ago in the 2005 mayoral race: From the New York Times, May 15, 2009:
Despite a commanding lead in the polls, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has already spent $18.7 million on his re-election campaign, nearly twice as much as he had spent at this point in the 2005 race, according to documents released on Friday.

Here's how the breakdown of the information-shaping spending goes:
The filings show that Mr. Bloomberg paid $8.3 million for political advertising, $1.5 million for polling and $225,000 on rent for the campaign’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. The bill for refreshments? About $18,000 . . . . The filings offered a glimpse into the sometimes glamorous, other times more mundane conditions faced by those who work on the mayor’s campaign. Staff members have stayed at the Bryant Park Hotel ($349.83), dined at Morton’s steakhouse in Brooklyn ($362.64) and used private car services (at $30 an hour). They have also dined on fare from Dunkin’ Donuts, Ruby Tuesday and McDonald’s.

Political consultants said the mayor ran the risk of alienating voters with his spending in the middle of a deep recession.

Columbia University professor Steven A. Cohen called this, “It’s a shock-and-awe approach. . . . He’s making it very hard for the opposition to gain any traction.”

Also insidious are the "Keep NYC Going" ads in the subways, with the message that schools have improved since 2002 (i.e., the beginning of mayoral control)
(Here is WNYC radio's March 18, 2009 news report of the self-serving subway ad campaign.
And Gothamschools' report on these $270,000 subway ads.
Bloggers at Gothamgazette and Eduwonkette chimed in with facts that counter the rosy picture that Bloombergs' whoops, I mean Kennedy's foundation conveys.)

These have been running for months already, indicating that the 2009 campaign began in 2008.
(Just click to the keepnycgoing site; in a year-old statement, Caroline Kennedy, cites changes under Bloomberg: "Over the past six years, tremendous changes have taken place in our city’s public schools.")
There is an implicit political agenda in these ads. Mayor Bloomberg explicitly said that he was staking his mayoralty on education. He has implemented his education policies via (autocratic, meaning rule by one) mayoral control. Keep NYC Going ads are implicitly, then, promoting the extension of Bloomberg's oversight of the schools, which could only be implemented with the renewal of his mayoral term.

These patterns --overkill ads, self-serving "public service ads" (Keep NYC Going) ads consuming the ad space for one side of the interior of one subway car-- cannot be called democracy. Where is the conceivable capacity to have a balanced discussion and debate?
{As one comment-poster to WNYC radio's website wrote: "I am limited to giving a maximum of $5000 to political candidates. Why is Bloomberg allowed to give more than $5000 to himself?" --Why Didn't the Court in Buckley v. Valeo consider this angle?}
Here's WNYC's Bob Hennelly, reporting on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's early spending on the election:

Comptroller William Thompson, the recipient of borough Democratic organizations prior to Weiner's withdrawal from the race should excoriate the mayor for this unbalanced spending. The Times wrote, "Political consultants said the mayor ran the risk of alienating voters with his spending in the middle of a deep recession." Thompson should shame the mayor on this issue, as he campaigns for mayor. Yet, so far, his campaign has little passion or nuanced political critique.

Congress and democratic-minded campaign reform should examine this election, and recognize it for the history making sham;
they should draft a constitutional amendment to amend the First Amendment.

All the activism in the world, along with blogging, emailing, etc., are no match for the mayor's millions spent on this election.

The mayor has cast education re-working (I won't endorse his changes with the loaded term "reform") as a civil rights issue. Hasn't anyone noticed that he has secured the endorsement of dozens of minority neighborhood community organizations, and has placed the organization names in "Keep NYC Going"-type ads in community newspapers, such as "Our Times News"?
Yet, as one comment-poster at the same WNYC message page writes, the police are continuing a grossly racially imbalanced stop and frisk policy:
"Is the city Safe?
Not if you are black or Latino.
Stop and Frisks were up to over 500,000 in 2008. 82% of those stopped are black and Latino. That is a 500% increase under Bloomberg." And the news reports buttress that contention. And Brooklyn College professor Alex Vitale also cites the police department for racially imbalanced stop and frisks.

No comments:

Post a Comment