Rich men, poor politics?

May 27, 2009 1:47:56 PM PDT
Does being a super-rich politician and lopsidedly outspending the opposition foster or hinder democracy?

It's an old debate, but it's taken on new meaning, what with the two extremely wealthy men now occupying the CEO jobs of New York City and the state of New Jersey.

To 99.99999999% of the population, there's not a twitter of difference in the net worth of Michael Bloomberg and Jon Corzine. But for those in that rarified stratosphere of bank accounts, Corzine is, relatively, a pauper compared to Hizzoner.

It says much about the business he built and the businessman he is that Mayor Bloomberg's wealth has exploded during his tenure - this as just about everyone else's has plummeted.

Which is great for him -- his estimated net worth was about $5 billion when he took office, now it's upwards of $18 billion, so they say; but the city he runs is in the tank financially, billions of dollars in the red, and its once-booming economy led by the financial industry and the housing market, seems more bust than boom.

But the question remains: does the public benefit from a super-rich elected official, other than his paying for his own travel and taking only $1 a year in salary?

It's no easy question. The big benefit is that a guy as wealthy as Bloomberg is beholden only to --- Bloomberg. Special interests ain't got nothing on this guy; after all, who can buy him off? The opposite worry might apply in a what-if scenario -- could a wealthy politician buy his way into office?

Certainly Bloomberg has done that -- paying for his three campaigns with his own money -- nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in campaign spending this decade.

The issue has come to the fore because one of his would-be challengers - Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner - today officially dropped out of the race in high-profile fashion. He penned a New York Times op-ed piece, saying that Bloomberg's billions make it hard to run an issue-oriented campaign. Plus, opined Weiner, he has big things to do in Washington.

The latter may be true. But Bloomberg's wealth doesn't make it hard to run an issue-oriented campaign. But it does make it hard to run an effective campaign when one candidate has an endless supply of money and the others are limited by what they can raise under the law (a pittance compared to Bloomberg) and what they get from public matching funds (ditto on the pittance).

My household gets several Bloomberg mailings a week, or so it seems, and if you've watched any television you know that the Mayor likes to advertise himself. Given that the ad market for so many other products has dried up, the Mayor often has the pick of the litter in terms of attractive airtime.

We'd like to hear your opinion on the does-a-wealthy-politician help or hurt democracy. Money may be the mother's milk of politics, but is money now poisoning politics? CLICK HERE to respond and we'll include some of your comments tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we'll have the latest on the Weiner dropout, and the upcoming Mayoral race, tonight at 11.

Finally, a sad night for so many of us who spent any time at ABC. Jack Reilly, the long-time executive producer of Good Morning America back in the day, died today in New York City. He had moved to the Midwest a couple of years ago, and was visiting here when he died this morning, quite unexpectedly. Jack was a TV giant -- as President of Group W Productions, he was the executive producer of "The David Frost Show" and "The Mike Douglas Show." He joined Good Morning America in the 1980s, guiding it to become the number one morning show for several years. He was in charge when I joined GMA in 1992, and he was the only boss I've ever had who seemed always more like a father than an employer.

Those who knew him are in shock today. He was talented and smart and down-to-earth and one of the nicest guys to ever walk the planet.

As Charlie Gibson, Jack's GMA anchor for oh-so-many-years, wrote today, "Jack was one of the finest people I ever had the good fortune to work with and for. Modest, shy, self-effacing, not an ounce of inflated ego, and yet a cracker jack producer who understood when he should intrude, and when to stand back and let others do their work. I think all of us loved the guy almost in spite of his reluctance to be loved. All of us are better in our careers because of Jack, all of us are better people for having known him."

We're going to miss you Jack Reilly.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.