$100M Buys NYC Mayoralty

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As many New Yorkers know, the City’s billionaire Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, shattered records when he spent $74 million of his own money to get elected in 2001. He has said he’s willing to spend even more to get reelected in 2005. He may be talking around $100 million.
 This situation and others similar to it certainly present a problem in a country that calls itself a democracy. How can it be considered a fair race when one candidate has more money than all the rest of his opponents put together? If he’s allowed to bankroll his own run for local office to the tune of tens of millions of dollars over what anyone else can raise, isn’t that letting him buy the election?
 These concerns have not gone unnoticed by the City Council. In a recent session members passed a package of bills aimed at strengthening and improving the City's campaign finance program, which exists for the purpose of helping level the financial playing field in New York City elections.
 Under the current law, candidates who agree to campaign spending limits are eligible for 4 to 1 matching funds on every dollar they raise in donations under $250. In a mayoral race where a candidate spends more than $2.8 million, they are eligible to get $5 for every $1. The new law would increase the maximum amount of public matching funds to $6 for every $1 and also lift the ceiling substantially on the amount of money they are allowed to raise.
 The legislation would further require that self-financed candidates who choose not to be part of the public financing system abide by the same limits on contributions and spending as candidates in the program. Candidates who are not part of the program would also have to comply
with the same disclosure requirements as those who are.
 Though the package passed in the council by the overwhelming margin of 42 to 7, council members who opposed it got a chance to have their say. Simcha Felder declared, "I will not participate in a campaign finance system changed in an election year. And I say as someone who has always been a participant, I will pass up all the matching funds that I would be entitled to, and I won't touch a single dirty dollar."
 Council Member Allan Jennings stated that his disappointment was not so much with the bill itself as with the process. He felt it had been rushed to the floor without enough advance notice to voters or consideration of the different Council delegations.
 However, those in favor of the legislation addressed these issues straight on. For one thing, Council Member Oliver Koppell pointed out that this is not an election year for the local offices that these bills refer to. New Yorkers will be electing their Mayor and City Council members next year. And Speaker Gifford Miller added that every single year before a local election the City Council has passed legislation that affected the next election. “If we were to decide not to put it into effect for next year, that would be a break with precedence,â€? he said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that elections remain that - elections and not auctions.â€?
 Deputy Majority Leader Bill Perkins, Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee, concurred. Since this type of legislation is always assigned to his committee, he knows for a fact that, working in tandem with good government groups, the Citizens Union, NYPIRG, and more, they always go back and try to see what improvements need to be made so they can craft bills that will take the campaign finance program to the next level.
 As to the process by which the legislation came to the floor, Perkins said that his committee had held an extraordinary number of hearings on this complex package of bills, open meetings in all the boroughs where voters could – and did - come to express their criticisms, and several council delegation meetings.
 Council Member Charles Barron commented that he believed the process could have used some refining, “but let’s not forget the larger picture: the Mayor spends too much money. And we should continue to look at more election laws that put a curb on those who have individual money, and what they can do with it.â€?
 As might be expected, Bloomberg is not happy about the legislation. Calling the City Council’s action "the ultimate backroom deal," he has promised to veto the bills. However, the council has well over the two-thirds majority of votes necessary to override his veto.

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