Written by Sultan Knish
Mike Bloomberg's mayoral races have become a quadrennial farce in which an outmatched Democratic party hack, whose only virtue is having done enough favors for those above and below is pounded to pieces by a billionaire with virtually the same political views, but a virtually unlimited amount of money and a great deal of cunning and determination. New Yorkers who do not like Bloomberg and have never liked him, are likely to go out once again to vote him in, mainly because the alternative would be worse. And the sad thing is they are right.
But what is interesting about this specific race in the great quadrennial farce that underlies so much of modern urban democracy, is just how dirty a race in which the main candidate neither needs anyone's money, nor expects to gain any money from his victory, really is. The proponents of campaign finance reform told us that by limiting campaign donations, a cleaner and uncorrupted breed of candidate would emerge. In fact just the opposite has happened, campaign finance reform instead made candidates beholden not so much to individual donors, but to organizations and 527's, who took on the outsourced campaign work on their behalf. But Bloomberg does not need any of those 527's, instead he's spending up to 200 million dollars of his own money on the campaign. But does that make Bloomberg's campaign any cleaner?
Money as the root of all political corruption is often cited in terms of campaign donations, but eliminating campaign donations does not eliminate corruption. Not even eliminating the politician's own financial profit motive does, as Bloomberg has repeatedly demonstrated for us. Because while Bloomberg may not need to take anyone's money and does not expect to profit financially from winning, the financial corruption is still very much present in the real root of all evil, the exchange of taxpayer money for political influence.
While Bloomberg uses his own money to buy campaign ads just about everywhere, he uses city money to dole out grants and programs in a strategic manner to groups likely to support him, as well as to specific organizations. One of the worst examples of that saw Bloomberg providing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Newmanites, best exemplified by the deranged bigot Lenora Fulani, who had hijacked the Independence Party in exchange for their support. And despite a long history of hatefilled statements, Fulani and Bloomberg are still campaigning together. But Fulani is only the ugly tip of a mostly hidden iceberg.
Attacking campaign donations only targets the most visible leg of a much bigger horse. Money is only the crudest form of support that politicians solicit. The subtler forms involve endorsements from organizations and big names willing to come out and campaign, groups who will run phone banks, hand out leaflets and throw the weight of their support behind a candidate. And there is always a price to pay for that sort of support, usually at taxpayer expense.
While campaign contributions are itemized on the bottom line, the billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent buying political support can never be enumerated. There are only glimpses here and there when they reek of obvious corruption, a politician's spouse suddenly getting city work thrown to her small business, a union bigwig appointed to a new position created just for him or an obscure community center no one ever heard of before suddenly receiving an open ended multimillion dollar grant. But these are only a handful of pebbles in an ocean of corruption and waste.
Because the real root of all evil is not in the campaign donations that politicians solicit or the money they hope to gain from the right politician connections. Those are all major parts of politician corruption, but even when they are eliminated, the corruption does not go away. The Bloomberg effect demonstrates that the real source of the corruption is not a profit motive for the candidate, but the profit motives of his supporters.
The ugly truth is that city, state and federal treasuries are coinage minted to buy political support and political favors. They can be used to build up some organizations and destroy others, to elevate the careers of some politicians and give back to core constituencies. This money feeds the chain of graft and kickbacks, the backroom deals and political machines that define local and national politics. The same system that all too often become synonymous with democracy in America ever since 1800 when a clever sociopath named Aaron Burr rigged a city corporation meant to provide water to New York into a scheme to create a bank and an entire voting base for Jefferson, in the process helping to turn Tammany Hall into the political monster it would become.
And at the root of all that evil is the money. Not campaign money, but the great treasure chest of taxes and revenues that the political vultures base their careers on fighting their way to and then doling out piece by piece to their supporters. And the more political support they need to buy, the more the taxes have to go up to pay for it. The more corruption tears at that treasure chest, the more the revenues have to be expanded. And when businesses flee or collapse, and inflation rises... the only solution as ever is more taxes.
Bloomberg is far from alone in this practice. Every major and minor city, town and village runs on some variation of the same scheme. As does the Federal government. Bloomberg's lack of a profit motive only exposes the system itself for what it is, a political practice that hinges on taking public money to pay for political support.
Since it virtually impossible to get elected without the support of groups and people who will want political favors at taxpayer expense in return, and once elected to any legislative or executive position virtually impossible to get anything passed or done without in turn signing on to budgets and bills that use taxpayer money as payback for political favors-- the same system has continued growing out of control. Reformers may try to step in and cut back spending a little, but the head of the spending hydra always grows back, because the purpose of American politics has come down to getting your hands on some of that money, and the definition of political power has come down to the ability to distribute that money.
Politicians run against each other promising to bring back a larger share of that money home to their district. Naturally a sizable portion of the money brought "home" will go to those who supported that politician, in one way or another. It's how the game is played. Campaign finance can no more fight this problem, than it can make your teeth shine and your shoes fit, because the problem is not so much in the private money that the politician gets, but the public money he gives away. If politicians did not have public money to give away, campaign finance would be a minor problem, because there would be a limited incentive to buy their favor in the first place.
Bloomberg may spend 200 million of his own money running for office, but he has probably spent at least 10 times that amount in public money on buying political support. But to buy political support, it has to be worth something in the first place. The hodgepodge of organizations who deliver the vote only have power thanks to the money and services they can distribute by way of government grants. ACORN is a typical example. If those organizations could not exploit government money, then their own profit motive would not exist and they would not have any votes to deliver.
It's not money that is at the root of political evil, but the power of politicians to expropriate and redistribute increasingly unlimited amounts of it from the people, for their own political ends. At the heart of all that corruption is the ability of local and national governments to amass vast sums of money through both taxation and deficit spending that are not strictly necessary for the function of government. That is the root of all evil, and until it is dug out, its poisonous sap will flow into every branch of politics and human life.
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