The Bloomberg Third-Term Proposal: Without Limits

October 1, 2008

The talk in New York today is all about Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to seek a third term, which would require an amendment to the two-term limits law to open the way.  If the proposal to permit current office holders to run for third terms in 2009 is adopted, there likely will be a scramble down the ballot as current aspirants for higher office reconsider and choose instead to seek re-election.  As they do, they will encounter lower spending limits for the offices they seek. New York City’s spending limits won’t be an impediment in a Bloomberg re-election campaign.  As before, he will likely run without limits by opting out of the voluntary public financing program. But for other candidates, the decision to abide by spending limits may turn on whether their prior campaign spending (in anticipation of seeking an open seat in a higher office) will now be counted against a lower limit applicable in an unanticipated re-election campaign.  If so, there will be a great incentive for these candidates to opt-out as well. Like Mayor Bloomberg, these candidates would then run without spending limits. When candidates choose to run without spending limits, the law provides that their participating opponents may qualify for increased public funding and an increase in their spending limits.  In such contested races, where the spending limit is effectively nullified, a higher level of private and public campaign financing will be likely. As emphasized in today’s New York Times editorial, part of the rationale for repealing term limits is that New York has a “strong public campaign-finance system” sufficient for giving “voters the ability to choose between good politicians and bad.”  To sustain the system’s strength, in the face of a term limits repeal, steps will be needed to ensure that the incentive to choose to abide by spending limits remains strong.

Tag: New York City