Monday, March 01, 2010

The Bridge of Cy's

We have commented approvingly about newly minted Manhattan DA Cy Vance's inquiry into the Bloomberg election cash outlay to the Independence Party. As we said last week: "This is all emblematic of the corrupting presence of vast wealth injected into a political system and finance structure that is ill-equipped to deal with its excesses. Maybe Cy Vance can do it."

But, as Adam Lisberg's incisive column pointed out yesterday in the NY Daily News (part of a series of such), the insidious impact of the mayor's money runs much deeper-and the CFB is begininng to realize this as it struggles to come up with a mechanism to address it: "Mayor Bloomberg's money was able to buy more than just consultants, polls and advertising in his reelection campaign last year: It was able to buy silence."

Unraveling this web of deceit is no easy task because, as we have stated, the system has never had to confront someone with vast wealth intent on using it to further his own particular interests: "The city's own Campaign Finance Board, by contrast, runs one of the nation's most rigorous monitoring programs for political spending. It audits campaigns, asks for supporting documents and holds candidates to account. The CFB does it because most city candidates - Mayor Bloomberg not among them - run for office with tax dollars. In exchange for taking public money, candidates forswear big bucks from special interests and agree to intensive monitoring. Still, clever candidates always find loopholes. The CFB plugged one last year after Bloomberg's challenger, William Thompson, complained that the mayor's personal donations were buying him support without any disclosure. The CFB agreed. Starting this year, all candidates must report any cash they give from their own pockets to a party."

But that's the catch-"to a party." What about the millions of undisclosed dollars that are funneled to not for profits who can be counted on the vouch for the mayor and his policies-or keep their mouths shut during a contentious election?

Here's a thought. The Manhattan DA should subpoena records for all of the mayor's personal-and charitable-contributions in order to determine whether he has unduly, and illegally, been influencing the political process. His efforts may lay the ground for some pathbreaking legislation that would insure that polls of great wealth wouldn't be so grossly advantaged by lavish outlays to allies as well as to potential opponents.

And such an investigation would serve an immense public purpose-demonstrating to New Yorkers the extent to which they have had their electoral process corrupted and their allegiances bought under and over the counter by our very own malefactor of great wealth.

And such an investigation might at the same time expose the craven obsequiousness of a newspaper publisher who believes that he just might make a good senator for New York. It would underscore how cash and carry Bloomberg walked off with political power, while the Daily News obsessed on all of the foibles of lesser classes of hired help-providing cover to the greater thief.

And while Lisberg toils valiantly to expose the Bloomberg excesses, Morticia continues on his crusade of misdirection-focusing once again, with typical high dudgeon, on city council slush in an editorial in yesterday's paper: "Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has broached a halfway measure for shaming the City Council into disinfecting its slush fund accounts with a bit of sunlight. Rather weenily, he says he will ask his former Council colleagues to disclose voluntarily the names of organizations they hope to shower with money after they submit their wish lists to Speaker Christine Quinn. De Blasio then plans to post the information on a Web site. Forget voluntary. A public advocate worth his salt would demand the data from Quinn so the public could review every pitch for money and track those that Quinn grants and those that she rejects."

But we need to give the CFB its props for at least trying-trying while the legislative oversight is in a moribund state of terminal lockjaw. As Lisberg points out: "There's a gap in disclosure of political activity at the city level," CFB spokesman Eric Friedman said of the board's proposal, which it hopes to enact this year. "When outside parties go out and spend money on behalf of a candidate," he said, "they're going to disclose which candidate they're supporting, and they're going to disclose where the money comes from." For New Yorkers who want to know that, it would have been a helpful law during last year's campaign - and during the push to extend term limits a year earlier. As the law stands now, though, a smart candidate can buy influence - and silence."

Here's hoping the Cy's scythe cuts as deeply as possible. If it does, Mike Bloomberg will stand exposed for conducting the worst kind of monetary manipulation in the city's political history-all in the service of a single special interest, expressed eloquently in the phrase, "l'etat, c'est moi."