Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Play and Dismay Challenge

As Liz first reported yesterday, a lawsuit's been filed against the city's dangerous "pay-to-play" law that restricts businesses and lobbyists from contributing to candidates at the same level as other citizens. As we've pointed out, here, here amd here, all of this is underlays a false and dangerous misconception of the role of money, lobbyists and "special interests" in politics.

In more concrete terms, however, the current legislation being challenged also has the defect of exempting labor unions from its restrictions. As Daily Politics points out: "The class-action suit filed today in US District Court argues, as expected, that the strict $400 cap on lobbyist contributions to city candidates violates the constitutional rights to free speech and association of a class of individuals (registered lobbyists) while also failing to "reach all speech that a viewpoint-neutral law would touch" (ie: labor unions)."

This exemption exacerbates the over all mischieviousness in the original legislation-and effectively renders it just another piece of ideological partisanship. As we've pointed out, labor already wields tremendous political clout, and exempting it from the law's limits aggrandizes its power in a totally inequitable manner-while making the law itself more vulnerable to the legal challenge that it just got.

What we get the biggest kick out of in all of this is how the legislation benefits the Bloombergs of the world, folks who can invest their great wealth in the conflating of their own interests with that of the public interest. Certainly, the class-restricted world view of Bloomberg has been an absolute disaster for the city's small businesses; while, even as the mayor himself has noted, the real estate grandees have been well-fed in an environment where lobbyist influence has been muted by the mayor's wealth.

Here's the money quote from Daily Politics last Friday: "Bloomberg told WABC-AM's John Gambling that he doesn't believe any administration has been more "pro-development than we have," adding:"We have gotten an enormous amount of construction going in this city. We've rezoned a sixth of the city. We're record number of houses and office buildings and all of that sort of stuff. And in order to get permits or to get contracts you didn't have to give any money to the city, we did it strictly, or to any of the political candidates or the mayor, me. We did it strictly on the merits and that's the way it should be."

What he's saying is that, even without the special interests needing to hire hiring lobbyists, the special interests-in this case the foundational element of the city's permanent government (or Power Elite)-have been uniquley advantaged by this "above politics" mayor. Why's that the case?

The reason lies with the fact that the mayor isn't above special interests, but is in fact their embodiment. From the elite plutocratic perspective patricianage isn't unseemly, but simply the just reward of the better class. In this scenario, then, the elimination of special interests becomes the elimination of the reality of the rough and tumble of democratic politics-and the rise of the expert whose class vision only benefits the less fortunate in a limited noblesse oblige fashion. It is precisely why the Progressives at the turn of the century warred with the democratic impulses of the Populists-with challenges to things like the spoils system couched in "good government" language in order to disguise their anti-democratic and class biases.

Which is exactly why the mayor promotes non-ideological bipartisanship; it is a world where the ideal leader, freed from the tawdry poitical system, can enact laws that, in this view, reflect rectitude unencumbered by special pleading. In the case of the mayor, as we have seen for six years, what we actually get is the jaundiced world view of a narrow minded progressive autocrat; the person who traces his lineage back to Rousseau's observation that, "sometimes you have to force people to be free."

So let's look forward to the overturning of this rather nasty piece of legislative hypocrisy. All we need in this city is greater transparency, a better system of checks and balances to replace a supine City Council, and a vigorous press that actually questions the decisions of elites (rather than just regurgitating press releases). Save us from all of the faux saviors.