A Real Chance at Reform

Bloomberg plans to limit campaign contributions from people doing business with the city

Both Schwarz and Cunningham expressed interest in a requirement that anyone giving more than the $250 limit would have to file an affidavit swearing that they did not do city business, exposing themselves to the possible penalty of losing that business if the assertion were false. Ferrer and Schwarz were unsure the limits should apply to officers of nonprofits, as Cardozo's proposal did. While Schwarz would not comment on a post-election starting date, he said, "It will be hard to do it carefully quickly."

The Bloomberg plan may wind up linked in negotiations with CFB-backed legislation already wending its way through the council with Miller's implicit support. The bill, which Miller endorsed in a Voice interview—and said will go through a second set of hearings in September—increases the bonus matching funds available to the eventual Democratic nominee against Bloomberg from the current five-to-one match to eight-to-one. That could add millions to Miller's, Ferrer's, or Weiner's coffers, which makes it all the more surprising that neither Weiner nor Ferrer supports it. Ferrer said it would be "gross" to raise the match that high when the city is "shutting down firehouses." Weiner says it looks like "the law is being changed to get one guy." Unlike Ferrer and Miller, Weiner is even willing to say he supports the Bloomberg proposal on contractor contributions, adding that he has "no big problem with doing it as soon as you can," rather than delaying it until 2006.

Weiner has already borne the brunt of one politically charged proposed CFB change. The council has been considering a retroactive amendment to bar or limit transfers from a federal campaign committee such as Weiner's—which currently contains nearly $1.8 million—into a city campaign committee. Weiner says that the council's "stalled this change for months"—possibly "as part of a plan." So Weiner has recently begun "reaching out to the bulk of my donors by letter and phone," asking them to take their donations back and refile them as contributions to his city committee.

Gifford Miller calls the Bloomberg proposal "a Trojan horse" that could discourage participation in the city's campaign finance system.
photo: Richard B. Levine
Gifford Miller calls the Bloomberg proposal "a Trojan horse" that could discourage participation in the city's campaign finance system.

Bloomberg may attempt to link the timing of the contractor limits to the timing of the eight-to-one bonus, trying to push both to 2006 and beyond. But, despite Weiner and Ferrer's forbearance, the problem the bonus hike is attempting to solve is Bloomberg—and who knows when another billionaire mayor will come along. Narrowing the stratosphere between the airtime Bloomie will buy next year and what the Democrat can buy is perfectly legitimate policy, no matter how self-serving it is for Miller. ("Are Ferrer and Weiner going to turn it down?" asked Miller.) The Bloomberg proposal, on the other hand, tackles a problem of historic and lasting significance that will shape the politics of the post-Bloomberg era.

Research assistance: Abby Aguirre, Daniel Magliocco, Marc Schultz, and Ben Shestakofsky

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