By Jerome Grossman
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked for the thousandth time if he would run for president of the United States in 2008. He laughed and said that he could not imagine the election of a short, divorced, Jewish billionaire from New York to the highest office in the land. Bloomberg has changed his political registration from Republican to unaffiliated. Should he run for president as an independent, the nation could be confronted with the three leading candidates, all from New York; Bloomberg, Clinton, Giuliani. There might be talk of secession in some states from this United States of New York. Should Bloomberg, who is really a Democrat, actually run, he might do as well as independent Ross Perot in 1992. Perot was really a Republican, took 19% of the votes, most of them from Bush the Father, giving the election to Clinton who won with only 42% of the vote. Bloomberg running as an independent might elect the Republican nominee in 2008. If he hooks up with Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, the Bloomberg – Hagel ticket will be called the “bagel” ticket in the headlines, a combination of their names and memorable too.
The attention Bloomberg is receiving is extraordinary. Even modestly noteworthy third parties in our political system had been organized around some popular issues neglected by the two major parties or around a charismatic individual like Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. Bloodless Bloomberg is as dull a candidate as can be found anywhere. He is proud to be a technician a la Michael Dukakis, and wants those elected “to work together.” He doesn't have answers on Iraq or immigration.
But Bloomberg does have the money, billions upon billions, is willing to spend it on a campaign, and that makes him a serious player. I have been waiting for the media and the nation's opinion leaders to cite Bloomberg as evidence of the need to change campaign finance laws. Bloomberg was not the first candidate to “buy” an election (see Senator and Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine, President John F. Kennedy with his fathers money, and many others), but he certainly dramatizes the power of money in elections.
In 1976, the US Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo, that political money was the equivalent of political speech and was therefore protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The effect: while Congress can regulate the raising of political campaign contributions from others, it cannot limit the political spending of the candidate using his own money.
We must find a way to change this. It is unfair to less affluent candidates. It is undemocratic. It tends to fill political positions with only one segment of American society. It limits discussion of the issues.
We say, “All men are created equal “ while our election laws give decisive advantage to the wealthy. For the health of our democracy, all candidates at every level should be financed equally by the government and elections not auctioned to the highest bidder. Such a system might even limit corruption.