Monday, August 09, 2010

Michael's Law

The report in Saturday's NY Times, that the ever generous Mike Bloomberg had been funneling millions of his personal dollars into the Doe Fund, gives new meaning to the old expression, "Follow the dough." And it once again raised the issue of just how the mayor's money is able to turn the traditional definition of political corruption on its head. Quite simply, with the money flowing in the opposite direction-from the politician to the individual or group that can be of some great political benefit-new law needs to be made to cover a phenomenon that is certainly sui generis.

First the story-and once again the Times is doing the right thing in following the mayor's use of his own fortune to feather his own nest; and the overturning of term limited was the ultimate in nest feathering: "It was one of the flash points of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s bid to overturn term limits and clear the way for a third term: officials and workers with the Doe Fund, a nonprofit group that works with the city’s homeless, testifying at Mr. Bloomberg’s behest before the City Council in support of his effort."

And, as they say in Brooklyn, "not for nothing." "To critics of Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to extend term limits, including some candidates who had prepared to run for mayor, the Doe Fund officials’ appearance amounted to a clear conflict of interest. For one thing, the organization, which has provided help to the homeless, drug addicts and ex-inmates for a quarter-century, has been awarded tens of millions of dollars in city contracts. What was unknown in the fall of 2008, though, was just how much the Doe Fund had benefited from Mr. Bloomberg’s personal philanthropy. A review of Doe Fund documents and tax returns, as well as e-mail messages from the group and interviews with people knowledgeable about its finances, shows that Mr. Bloomberg, through his charitable arms, has regularly given millions of dollars to the group since he became mayor — at least $10 million of which came after the City Council hearings on term limits."

Can you say, quid pro quo? Or how about, pay to play? So, as we suspected all along, it was not only the clueless Ron Lauder who was induced to take a dive-and on his only real claim to fame-but scores of others in what should be, for the NY Times, a serialization on the road to the Pulitzer Prize: "Throughout his tenure as New York’s first billionaire mayor, Mr. Bloomberg’s ability to donate his own money to organizations of all kinds — arts groups, political parties, churches and nonprofit agencies that carry out many of the administration’s policy initiatives — has been both a blessing and a point of contention."

Point of order.For the gal or the fella receiving the bribe it is, at least if not caught, always a blessing-for the public? Not so much-unless, of course, you agree with the mayor's l'etat, c'est moi philosophy. Our friend Doug Muzzio gets the picture: "It is clear that an array of well-qualified organizations have been either saved or improved by the mayor’s giving. But many people, not least of all those politicians who have taken on the mayor, have seen a political calculation in the mayor’s largess. Was he merely underwriting good groups, they have asked, or buying political loyalty? “There is probably no clearer example of how Mike Bloomberg uses his immense private wealth for public power in a fashion that is unprecedented not only at the city level but at the state and national levels, as well,” Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, said, referring to the Doe Fund."

And, as the Times points out, the use of public funds to generate political support is timeless; but what makes the mayor's situation unique, is his ability to more than double down: "In late 2008, according to records and a person with knowledge of the group’s finances, Mr. Bloomberg gave at least $5 million. The gift was made weeks after the City Council’s decision to roll back term limits, and it dwarfed any other single donation made that year, the fund’s tax records show. A year later, less than 48 hours before he was sworn in for a third term, Mr. Bloomberg gave at least another $5 million, according to documents. “He is delighted to continue his support of the organization’s important programming and commitment to New York City,” Mr. Bloomberg’s accountant wrote to Mr. McDonald, the organization’s president, in a letter dated Dec. 31, 2009."

We're quite sure Bloomberg was delighted-an ebullience born from the ability to incentivize his League of Enthusiastic Sycophants in his own narrow self interest. And the Times is to be hailed for its reporting here-but the Doe disclosure is merely the tip of the iceberg. Take a close look at all of the mayor's signature issues-from term limits and mayoral control of the schools, to congestion pricing and Willets Point. In each of these venues if you dig beneath the surface you find parasitical organizations living off of the mayor's largess. And in the case of the latter two issues, the below the surface environment is festooned with, appropriately, environmentalists.

We have called out the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund for their sycophancy-particularly on Willets Point where they graciously jumped about the Claire Shulman grass roots express to slavishly laud the sustainable nature of the Willets Point project-undeterred by the fact that the development will flood local roads and the Van Wyck with 80,000 vehicle trips a day. When you have both hands out, even an environmentalist can mistake carbon dioxide for oxygen.

And, on the schools, we have the silence of the Sharpton lamb (via Wayne Barrett): "The mouth that once roared is now compromised by a complex intertwine of alliances, as well as legions of benefactors who dump their largess into the National Apathy Network (NAN) and other Sharpton troughs, subsidizing an opulent Midtown-hotel lifestyle that the Rev. now believes is his own civil right. Remember when the New York Times recently devoted its front page to the race record of the Bloomberg administration, pointing out that Mayor Mike's top team is actually whiter than the hated Rudy's? Remember what New York's civil rights giant said? Try nada."

Which gets us back to the anomaly of reverse Bloomberg bribery-there is simply no statute that even comes close to adequately protecting the public against the subornation of the political process by the city's richest citizen-who also happens to be its mayor. Which leads us to make a suggestion. When current law proves inadequate to address truly heinous actions, we have a tendency to propose stiffer statutes, and dramatize their importance by naming them-Jessica's and Megan's laws for sex offenders and pedophiles come to mind.

In that spirit, we propose, "Michael's Law." This law would criminalize the use of private funds by an elected official to advance any legislation that could be construed to be in his or her own political interests. And, given its analogous relationship to the traditional bribery statutes, it would come with the kind of felony penalties that would mandate the office holder's removal. And while we're drafting legislation, let's add a statute that prohibits the kind od double dipping that allows Patty Harris to moonlight as head of the mayor's charity-a phenomenon blessed by a Conflicts of Interest Boar that, as part of the new law, should be made wholly independent of the mayor's appointing authority..

It may be too late to clean up the Bloomberg swamp, but Michael's Law would at least prevent future wealthy self-aggrandizers from corrupting the political process in their own narrow selfish interests. And, who knows, perhaps even toady Ed Koch could get behind the reform effort?