mm064: How to take down plutocrat Michael Bloomberg. – By Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres – Slate Magazine

July 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I just can’t let it go; I guess I’m having too much fun (or let’s face it, I need to get out into the summer air).

Once again, in the interests of exposing us to all intriguing points of view on my Topic A, here’s a fascinating analysis from my most consistent daily read, Slate.blogroll2 

politics: Who’s winning, who’s losing, and why.

Down With Plutocrats and Fat Cat Donors; Give the rest of us money to spend on campaign contributions.

By Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres
Posted Monday, June 25, 2007, at 2:23 PM ET

Michael Bloomberg. Click image to expand.Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg’s flirtation with the presidency dramatizes the breakdown of our campaign-finance system. His third-party threat is only realistic because he is able to spend a billion dollars of his own money. Even if this isn’t enough to get him to the White House, it might well shift the balance between the candidates of the major parties, turning 2008 into a parody of 2000, with Plutocrat Bloomberg playing the destabilizing role of Citizen Nader.

The Supreme Court says that Bloomberg has a constitutional right to spend unlimited money out of his own pocket, but there is a perfectly practical reform that would allow ordinary citizens to strike back. Give every voter a special credit card account containing $25 that they can spend at any time during presidential election campaigns. Voters could use these cards at local ATMs whenever they liked to send their “Patriot Dollars” to the candidate they favor for president.

If 2008 is like 2004, about 120 million Americans will go to the polls. If they could also go to their ATMs, they would contribute $3 billion in federal funds to qualifying candidates. Bloomberg would be free to compete for these funds if he agreed to keep his personal spending to a modest amount within the range of mere mortals—say, $50,000, a limit already upheld by the Supreme Court. But if the New York City mayor insisted on spending his own billions, he could be constitutionally barred from the patriot market—leaving his rivals free to campaign for the financial support of their fellow citizens. Whichever option Bloomberg chose, he could not crush ordinary candidates with his overwhelming wealth. Indeed, the very existence of Patriot Dollars will force plutocrats to think twice before trying to buy their way to the presidency.

A citizens’ fund for campaign contributions would also democratize money-raising for primary elections, which at present gives too much power to a small number of big givers. Even though the latest Gallup poll shows John McCain to be the favorite of 18 percent of Republicans, compared to 7 percent for Romney, McCain is on the ropes because he isn’t raising enough money to keep up. The betting markets say that Romney is twice as likely to win the nomination. John Edwards’ standing is also threatened by his relatively low fund-raising totals; he came up with only $14 million in the first quarter compared to Hillary Clinton’s record-breaking $25 million. If the Federal Election Commission reports another disappointing performance at the end of this month, the media might declare Edwards a “second tier” candidate and deprive him of a fair chance to plead his case in Iowa by downgrading his press coverage.

It’s not surprising that McCain and Edwards are having a particularly tough time raising money from big givers. McCain’s advocacy of campaign reform has never been a favorite among top donors, and Edwards’ sharp turn to the left isn’t a big crowd-pleaser, either—at least when the crowd consists of the small group of Americans who can deliver $2,300 apiece from a bunch of friends or business associates. Our present money primary doesn’t even pretend to be consistent with the one person-one vote principles that govern our democracy—and in the disconnect between poll numbers and contribution levels, we are beginning to see the distorting consequences. With big primaries pushed into February, candidates need money now to compete effectively. The current setup is a standing invitation for big givers to determine the choices that ordinary voters will be allowed to confront at the polls.

Patriot Dollars would mark a decisive advance over the existing system of federal funding initiated in the aftermath of Watergate. Congress then tried to break the domination of big money by offering presidential candidates a federal subsidy if they limited their private fund raising. If, for example, a candidate in this year’s primaries restricts fund raising to $40 million, the government will match each $250 private contribution with $250 in federal funds, up to a ceiling of $20 million. While this yields a total budget of $60 million, front-runners have no incentive to accept the deal when they can raise $25 million a quarter. Once a single candidate opts out, competitors must do the same or face a crushing blitz of TV ads. While the Watergate system remains on the books, it is irrelevant in practice. Indeed, the leading candidates have already made it clear that they will also refuse federal money and rely exclusively on private financing in the general election.

Even when it was operational, the old funding scheme pushed ordinary citizens to the sidelines. The Federal Election Commission simply writes each qualifying candidate a fat check. Ordinary citizens play a minor role—they can send a few of their tax dollars to the generic presidential campaign fund by checking an appropriate box on their 1040 on April 15, but they can’t choose a particular candidate as a beneficiary. Unsurprisingly, a mere 8 percent of taxpayers have bothered to check the right box in recent years, leaving only $170 million in the federal kitty. This paltry sum is insufficient to fend off a Bloomberg-style attack, even if candidates were inclined to take the federal money.

In contrast, our initiative transforms campaign finance into a vehicle for active citizenship. Voters are invited to send their $25 to the candidate of their choice at the time when it really counts. Since the system puts ordinary citizens at center stage, they will give broad support for a plan that can finally allow them to take control of campaign finance away from big givers. Their Patriot Dollars will overwhelm the $1 billion that the current crop of candidates are expected to raise during this entire campaign cycle (assuming Bloomberg stays out).

Nothing can be done in time for the current campaign for 2008. It’s just too late for serious consideration, and Bush would veto such a proposal anyway. But at the very least, the present crop of candidates should be pressed to propose Patriot Dollars for 2012. The plan won’t solve all our problems. It would still allow candidates to raise large sums from special interests under the McCain-Feingold rules. But it represents a practical and constitutional response to the increasing dominance of big money. $3 billion is a small price for democratizing presidential politics.


How to take down plutocrat Michael Bloomberg. – By Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres – Slate Magazine

I’d like to live in that idealistic version of an alternate universe too, guys. While we’re at it, why not remove all political reporting and advertising from radio and TV and force people to read and reflect, and go listen in person to debates and speeches, in order to make their election decisions. That would certainly cut the cost of a campaign!

Living here and now, where big money is the rule, I’m grateful that Mike Bloomberg seems to be the real deal. Not a Skull and Bones plutocrat out to pretzel the tax laws out of all recognition and utility for the benefit of he and his fellow Warbucks (“death tax” indeed). Okay, a realer deal, anyway. I’m willing to try it.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm063: Would Bloomberg Have a Chance? — TIME

July 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

In all the flurry and distractions, I overlooked this analysis from a couple of weeks ago. So at the risk of seeming to cravenly grab for hits, I’m smiting my Bloomberg in ’08 hot button again.

Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2007

Would Bloomberg Have a Chance?

By Mark Halperin

The national political press corps has plenty of reasons to be fascinated by the prospect of (newly) independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg running for President next year.

First, the press likes Bloomberg himself — he’s one of us (just a tad richer), having earned his fortune running his eponymous media company —and many of the biggest players in New York and Washington media circles are chummy with the dinner-party-charming Mayor.

Second, the press is perpetually interested in two things that a Bloomberg candidacy would represent: super-wealthy self-funding candidates, and plausible independent runs for the White House.

Finally, with basement-dwelling poll numbers for President Bush, along with real doubts about the leading Presidential candidates of the two major parties, Bloomberg’s call for independent, non-partisan problem solving free of the typical Beltway bickering seems to be a perfect part of an emerging storyline.

Still, even Bloomberg’s most ardent boosters recognize the daunting realities of the past (independents don’t win the Presidency) and the future (if Bloomberg enters the race and looks like he might win, Republicans and Democrats would team up to try to destroy him).

Most of the obvious attacks on a Presidential candidate Bloomberg would come from the right. Conservative activists would assail his views on gay marriage, the death penalty, gun control and taxes as typical New York City liberalism. Both sides would say he lacked national security experience and explore his background, looking for business and personal vulnerabilities. Bloomberg would try to fight off the efforts to define him with hundreds of millions of dollars of television commercials, and would likely spend a similar amount trying to define the other candidates as out of touch and extreme.

Clearly Bloomberg does not plan to enter the race until he sees whom the major parties settle on as nominees, likely early next year. At that point, he would look to see how unfavorably those two candidates are seen, how sour the mood of the country is on politics-as-usual, and how open the electorate seems to a candidate Bloomberg himself describes as “a short, Jewish, divorced billionaire,” one who has now turned his back on both the Democrats and the Republicans.

And here’s the thing: Bloomberg will only enter the race if he believes he has a reasonable chance to win, but he almost certainly never will be the favorite to win, simply because as an independent he could not be expected to get more than, say, 35% of the vote at best, requiring the political equivalent of drawing an inside straight to win the necessary 270 electoral votes to take the White House. Even H. Ross Perot, despite taking a respectable 19% of the popular vote in 1992, couldn’t win a single electoral vote.

So the more urgent question is, which party would be more hurt by his entry into the race?

Although there are statistics and arguments on both sides, Perot almost certainly hurt George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole (and helped Bill Clinton) in his two Presidential runs, while Ralph Nader clearly benefited George W. Bush in 2000 against Al Gore. Despite Bloomberg’s reformist views on welfare and education that put him more in line with conservatives, on a national level, he would almost certainly hurt the Democratic nominee more than the Republican.

But Presidential elections aren’t national contests — they are races to those 270 electoral votes. Playing around with the National Archives Electoral College calculator (as I did for most of my morning Wednesday) shows that it isn’t impossible for Bloomberg to get enough votes to win, but it is tough indeed. The more interesting question is which reliably Red and Blue states could shift from one side to the other with Bloomberg on the ballot. Of course, determining that in a rigorous way is impossible without knowing who the other candidates will be among the various possible combinations (the all-New York match up of Giuliani versus Clinton versus Bloomberg is particularly imponderable), and without knowing what the mood of the nation will be in 2008.

It appears that a massively funded Bloomberg candidacy would endanger more states won by Gore and Kerry than those won by Bush. On the other hand, if Bloomberg was able to pick off some electoral votes, he could theoretically throw the outcome into the House of Representatives, producing another set of complex what-ifs.

We won’t know until next year if Bloomberg will run. And unlike political reporters, who have the time and inclination to speculate endlessly about every possible eventuality, presidential campaigns live by one simple rule: don’t worry about things you can’t control. For now, all of the announced Presidential candidates are locked in fierce trench warfare trying to secure their positions on the general election ballot as their party’s nominee. Wondering how to beat Michael Bloomberg will wait for another day, down the road and a million political years away.

Copyright � 2007 Time Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Would Bloomberg Have a Chance? — Printout — TIME

Sounds very plausible, doesn’t it? This micro-bandwagon has legs wheels! Put this together with National Popular Vote, and you might have a viable way to set this country back on course.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE