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Opinion

Liberal hypocrisy on Bloomberg's moneyed fight for gun control

President Obama heads to Colorado today in his push for gun control – a cause NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions to support. Liberals who usually oppose the influence of money in politics are now praising Bloomberg. Such hypocrisy undermines their cause.

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And last month, Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group launched a $12 million ad campaign to run in 13 states, targeting 15 senators who could be “persuaded” to support gun control legislation, specifically background checks. The targeted lawmakers include Susan Collins (R) of Maine, Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana, and Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana.

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Bloomberg reportedly paid for the entire ad campaign and also funded the “national day of action” on guns that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group organized for last Thursday. The day drew lavish praise from Mr. Obama and others on the left.

But whereas liberals have blasted the mayor for purchasing his own re-election, they were largely silent about Bloomberg “buying votes” for gun control.

That’s patently inconsistent, and it’s also deeply cynical. Campaign-finance regulation came to America 100 years ago via people who called themselves “Progressives.” So it’s particularly outrageous to see self-described progressives seemingly turning a blind eye to it today, when it suits their purposes to do so.

For the first century of American history, most political campaigns were financed via the spoils system: The winning political party got to hire government employees, who were in turn “assessed” a fee by the party. Starting in the 1880s, however, Congress and the states instituted civil-service examinations and bans on party assessments.

So the parties looked to America’s burgeoning corporate sector for election funds. In 1896, Republican operative Mark Hanna raised at least $3.5 million – a then-unheard-of sum – in support of the victorious William McKinley, distributing more than 100 million campaign documents in 10 different languages. According to Theodore Roosevelt, Hanna “advertised McKinley as if he were a patent medicine.”

But in 1904, during his own successful run for the White House, Roosevelt was stung by revelations that his campaign manager – a partner in the J.P. Morgan investment bank – had secretly deposited almost $50,000 in an account of the Republican National Committee. To get in front of the scandal, Roosevelt called for a ban on corporate contributions in federal elections.

Three years later, Congress enacted such a ban. Shortly after that, it also passed laws requiring parties to disclose their campaign contributors and capping total expenditures on House and Senate contests. “The use of inordinate sums of money in campaigns is un-American and undemocratic,” declared one lawmaker, in support of the reforms. “It puts a premium on greed and avarice and magnifies these qualities into political ideals of the nation.”

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