It’s sometimes easy to forget that infamous conservatives like the Koch brothers are not the only wealthy Americans who use their wallets to influence elections. As former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) reminds us, plenty of liberals are also giving large sums to influence national politics.
Unlike many of his peers in the dark money game, Bloomberg isn’t hiding his motives. In a New York Times interview and an appearance on NBC’s Today Show on Wednesday, he touted a new effort to strengthen gun laws and curb gun violence on a national level in the United States. The former mayor then pledged to spend $50 million to fight the influence of the National Rifle Association, which spent over $11 million on the 2012 elections.
To sell his new gun-control effort, Bloomberg painted the issue in ethical terms. “This is not a battle of dollars. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of America so that we can protect our children, protect innocent people,” he told the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie. “We’re the only civilized country in the world that has this problem. We have to do something.”
But Bloomberg’s effort is ultimately about influencing politicians and policy. His ultimate goal, he told Guthrie, is to shore up enough public support to scare politicians away from voting against gun restrictions.
“People will vote for whatever they think is in their own self-interest to get elected and re-elected,” he said. “We’ve got to convince them that the 80 percent of gun owners, the 90 percent of Americans who are in favor of just simple background checks to make sure criminals, minors and people with psychiatric problems can’t buy guns—something that’s common sense—we’ve got to make sure they understand that’s what the public wants and the public’s going to vote that way.”
When it comes to elections, it shouldn’t be hard for Bloomberg to match the success of the NRA.
Contrary to its reputation, the NRA has not fared well in its fight to influence elections across the United States in recent years. In 2012, for example, the gun lobby donated $11 million to various campaigns — and got its desired result in just 0.81 percent of those races.
To be sure, Bloomberg does not have a perfect record of influencing elections either. In 2013, he gave $350,000 to two Colorado state senators who faced recall elections. The senators, both Democrats, had voted for stricter gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater. Despite Bloomberg’s donations, both senators lost to pro-gun rights Republicans.
The former mayor’s new group, called Everytown for Gun Safety, has already begun its effort to spread gun-violence awareness. The group will combine two already existing gun-control advocacy groups: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg co-founded, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The group will primarily lobby women to make gun control an important policy issue that will influence their vote. This video is the group’s first attempt to galvanize supporters and reach a wide audience:
Bloomberg’s pledge to devote up to $50 million to the initiative will make him one of the nation’s top political donors to outside spending groups. In 2012, Bloomberg checked in as the fifth largest donor to outside spending groups, contributing over $13 million to a variety of politically active groups. If Bloomberg had spent an additional $50 million in 2012, he would have been the second largest outside donor.
Only Sheldon Adelson, who spent of $90 million on outside spending groups, would have outspent the former mayor.
Photo: Center for American Progress via Flickr