In the wake of Citizens United, few may have seen the prospect of a billionaire trying to wrest the National Rifle Association's stranglehold on the purse strings of lawmakers. But Mike Bloomberg made just such an attempt when he successfully spent over $3 million to unseat Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) from the House last month.
This week, Americans have seen high-profile gun killings on each coast. We've seen many more in the past, yet the only things that change are that gun and ammunition regulations get looser at the state and federal levels as lawmakers interpret "a well-regulated militia" to mean indiscriminate availability of lethal force.
Mayor Bloomberg has not, as of this writing, weighed in on the tragedy at Newtown. But do not be surprised to see him continue his attempt to reshape the gun debate through campaign spending. (Which may alter debates on both firearms and on campaign spending.)
No doubt the strongest gun control advocate on Forbes' list of the fabulously rich, Bloomberg seized an opportunity to unseat Baca, a pro-gun Democrat, by spending $3.3 million on television and mail attacks. Given his estimated $25 billion fortune, $3.3 million is couch cushion change. But it was three times the sum Baca and [Rep-Elect Gloria] Negrete McLeod raised between them. By homing in on a loyal National Rifle Association politician, Bloomberg altered a long-standing element of American politics.
Time was, a politician like Baca could cast pro-gun votes, receive NRA support and not worry about an attack from any moneyed interest that promoted gun control. No such group existed, at least not on the order of the NRA.
Until, that is, Bloomberg came along. He spent $8.1 million through his Independence USA political action committee in his first serious foray into the electoral politics of guns, and candidates he backed won in three of the six races where Independence USA played.
"It sends a message: you can lose your seat by voting against prudent gun legislation," said New York Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, the strategist who led Bloomberg's campaign. "Hopefully, members will think twice before taking these votes. They can't just vote the NRA's way and assume they won't hear about it."