During the November general elections, few candidates running for national office chose to stake out policy positions advocating for legislation attempting to address the proliferation of firearms and the public health risks they pose to the country. But a few did, and their sugar daddy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chose to invest some of his small fortune in a handful of political races that put the long-smothered issue into the national spotlight.
One six-term congressional veteran, U.S. Rep. Joe Baca from southern California, lost thanks to campaign spending by the Independence USA PAC, created by Bloomberg late in the fall campaign. According to a Nov. 23, 2012, story on the race by National Public Radio (NPR), Bloomberg’s PAC was looking for “the right race and the right set of circumstances.”
According to the NPR Story, the first thing Bloomberg’s new super PAC wanted was a clear contrast between the candidates on an issue of real concern, such as guns, and Baca, a Blue Dog Democrat, previously had gotten high ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Columnist Dan Bernstein, with The Press-Enterprise newspaper in the “Inland Empire” area east of Los Angeles, said, “There’s probably one man in America, in this campaign, who cared about gun control. And it’s Mayor Bloomberg.”
For reasons still not clear to me, NPR’s report focussed on how super PACs can defeat local candidates, but ignored the bigger issue of why Bloomberg joined the fray–to address the issue of gun violence in the country. NPR continues to be a media outlet that fails to report national statistics on firearms violence, namely easily accessible public health data on murders and suicides linked to guns.
Bloomberg’s super PAC made late entry in key races
When Bloomberg made his announcement on Oct. 17, 2012, he stated, “It’s critically important that we have elected officials in Washington, Albany, and around the nation who are willing to work across party lines to achieve real results. I’ve always believed in the need for more independent leadership, and this new effort will support candidates and causes that will help protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence, improve our schools, and advance our freedoms.”
Bloomberg’s decision had an immediate and symbolic impact. The Press Enterprise newspaper noted that Baca lost his re-election bid to a come-from-behind finish by state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, thanks mostly to a last-minute cash infusion from Bloomberg’s PAC. Baca also reportedly blamed Bloomberg’s spending for his loss in the race for the redrawn 35th Congressional District.
Bloomberg’s super PAC came late in the race. The Washington Post only reported the PAC’s existence the day Bloomberg made it public, and all just three weeks before the Nov. 6, general elections. A New York Times blog had initially reported that Bloomberg’s top issues were abortion and gun control before the super PAC was made public.
Bloomberg’s actions were entirely consistent with his statement following the horrific mass murder in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012, when a gunman wounded 59 civilians and killed 12 others at a theater. Bloomberg, after the shooting and the media spectacle that ensued, lambasted Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama for failing to mention the issue of how unrestricted firearms was a major factor in such mass murders of U.S. citizens.
“Soothing words are nice,” said Bloomberg, “But maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.” Both candidates failed to discuss any serious policy approach to stemming gun-related violence in the United States, notably during the three presidential debates.
As this blog has reported before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of firearm homicides in 2010 in the United States was 11,493, while the role of firearms in suicides was nearly twice that rate, or 18,735 persons. All told firearms were linked to 30,228 deaths annually at last count–a fact that Democrats have decided to avoid as they put together their national coalition that includes many center and right of center candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives the U.S. Senate.
Bloomberg’s super PAC picked Pennsylvania race winner
Bloomberg’s PAC also supported Pennsylvania Attorney General Democratic candidate, Kathleen Kane. An ad paid by the super PAC said: “Kathleen Kane: close the [Florida] loophole and keep guns out of the wrong hands. Track stolen guns to choke of supply to criminals. Background checks for all gun sales.” (See the ad here.)
Kane, in a rare move for a Democrat running for a state or higher office, publicly came out in favor of legislation favoring firearms control. She said she wanted to close the so-called “Florida loophole,” which lets someone denied a concealed-carry gun permit in Pennsylvania to get one in another state and then transfer that permit to Pennsylvania. Kane went on to win her race handily.
While Kane is a rarity, few if no politicians have the pockets of Bloomberg, an independent who can spend $10 million to $15 million of his own fortune on an issue that has seen no legitimate political discourse at the state or federal level for years, thanks mainly to the work of the NRA, the gun industry lobby.
All told, Bloomberg’s spending was directed at seven races nationally, of which his picks won four races, costing the billionaire roughly $8 million. Public health advocates who champion addressing firearms violence in the country likely will be following how Bloomberg’s super PAC will continue to wade into strategic races and confront the silence over firearms violence, which has become the acceptable new normal in political discourse by both major parties.
Leadership likely will remain with big city mayors, who as managers overseeing jurisdictions that carry out day to day criminal justice activities, see all facets of firearms violence most closely. The Brady Center also will continue to lobby for legislative changes to address the proliferation of firearms in the United States, as well.