Give to Get

Curbing the players

Because Michael Bloomberg doesn't need anyone else's money to run for public office, he's been able to cast a critical eye on how others are compelled to gather campaign funds.

Last year, the mayor began a push to end what he rightly terms "pay to play"—the practice in which campaign contributions roll in from those doing business with the city. In a speech last fall, Bloomberg said the system was "just the most outrageous thing" and "corrupt." But rather than make the contributions themselves illegal, the mayor wants the Campaign Finance Board to institute new rules making it illegal for candidates to accept donations from those doing city business.

During public hearings earlier this year on the proposal, however, the board identified several problems. One is that the city lacks a comprehensive database of those who conduct business with the city, including contracts, land use decisions, and lobbying. Last month the Mayor's Office of Contracts made a major step forward by making much of the city's Vendex system—the listing of those who hold city contracts—available on the Web (nyc.gov/vendex). But that still leaves out those who lobby or seek zoning variances or tax breaks, to name a few.

And, as Megan Quattlebaum of Common Cause pointed out to the board, the same questions also arise in the fundraising efforts of the Olympics committee, NYC 2012, headed by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. The nonprofit charity's widespread soliciting of developers and lobbyists also presents "the potential for the public appearance of the same type of pay-to-play issues," said Quattlebaum.

 
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