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Bloomberg Philanthropies’ cronyism problem

One of the biggest banes of politics is cronyism, aka leaders granting favors to those who supported their rise to power or, in exchange for future support. It’s far from a new phenomenon, despite the claims of otherwise from those who rail against the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

America’s first public dalliance with cronyism is from 1824 when the Supreme Court ruled against the establishment of a New York-granted steamboat monology for Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton. The high court has long waffled on the cronyism issue. One only has to look at the Slaughter-House Case where justices gave New Orleans and Louisiana the power to establish a state-run monopoly in the butcher industry. The high court is not known for its consistency, after all.

The latest example of cronyism, at least the potential foul stench of it, is in the dealings of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The New York Times reported this morning Bloomberg is using the network he established through the non-profit’s grant program to empower his run for the presidency.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has assets totaling $9 billion, has supported 196 different cities with grants, technical assistance and education programs worth a combined $350 million. Now, leaders in some of those cities are forming the spine of Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign: He has been endorsed so far by eight mayors — from larger cities like San Jose, Calif., and Louisville, Ky., and smaller ones like Gary, Ind., representing a total of more than 2.6 million Americans.

For all of those endorsers, Mr. Bloomberg has been an important benefactor. All have attended his prestigious boot camp at Harvard that gives the mayors access to ongoing strategic advice from Bloomberg-funded experts. More than half have received funding in the form of grants and other support packages from Mr. Bloomberg worth a total of nearly $10 million, according to a review of tax documents and interviews with all eight mayors.

Bloomberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and some of the mayors who received grants did attempt to play off the grants and ensuing endorsements as nothing, and certainly not quid-pro-quo. Ithaca, New York Mayor Svante Myrick did quip to NYT about possibly getting more cash from the Bloomberg Philanthropies if he decided to endorse Bloomberg’s presidential bid. The comment may fall into the laps of Bloomberg’s Democratic opponents if he ever makes it onto the debate stage.

It certainly appears Bloomberg is willing to use his work with mayors as more of a nod and wink than anything else. NYT pointed out Bloomberg told top Texas Democrats how he worked with plenty of mayors in the state on issues, including presidential candidate Julian Castro. Is it any wonder why Bloomberg is now using former policy advisers with his charity arm to run his presidential campaign? Via NYT:

Now, some of the same people who aided these mayors from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation are the ones asking for their political support. [Ex-Bloomberg Foundation head of government innovation James] Anderson, who several mayors described as the most vital point of contact at Bloomberg Philanthropies, is now directing the campaign’s “Mayors for Mike” coalition. He and Patricia E. Harris, the foundation’s longtime chief executive, have both moved over to the campaign, changing email addresses and phone numbers but not their relationships with mayors and other leaders.

[Huntington, West Virginia Mayor Steve] Williams recalled a phone call from Mr. Anderson, “wanting to have a separate conversation from the foundation, asking, ‘Can we switch gears?’” he said.

Williams did note “lines of demarcation” between the foundation and campaign but it appears quite obvious why Bloomberg wants Anderson running part of his presidential run. Graft or, at least, the potential for using the cash given to mayors as a carrot for more support. Let’s say Bloomberg can ascend to the White House. Will he not then bless those mayors who supported him with larger federal grants? Would he not do the same should his presidential campaign fall by the wayside? The mayors probably hope so, one way or the other.

These are the concerns whenever Bloomberg secures an endorsement from mayors in states not part of the “Big Two” early primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire. The jury is still out on whether this strategy will work, especially with Bloomberg at 5% in the polls. However, this potential line of graft may be why Bloomberg suggests he’s the best to take on Trump.