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How Joe Lhota Could Benefit From New York’s Own ‘Citizens United’ | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

How Joe Lhota Could Benefit From New York’s Own ‘Citizens United’

As much as NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has tried to divorce himself from the national, shutdown Republicans, he’s eager and ready to benefit from one of their signature goals: abolishing campaign finance reform. Yesterday, a federal appellate court ruled in favor of a pro-Lhota PAC, saying that New York State’s $150,000 annual limit on individual contributions to political action committees “reduces constitutionally protected political speech.”

This latest money-is-speech decision allows the pro-Lhota group, New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP), to immediately accept a $200,000 donation from an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon. (McCutcheon just happens to be waging a similar battle in the US Supreme Court.)

NYPPP, by the way, is not to be confused with another Lhota-supporting PAC, New Yorkers for Proven Leadership, which was financed largely by right-wing billionaire David Koch and ran ads on Lhota’s behalf during the primaries. But this latest ruling can free up “speech” for billionaires everywhere.

Lis Smith, spokeswoman for Democrat Bill de Blasio, slammed the decision by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, saying it “will empower the right-wing billionaires, like the Koch [b]rothers, and Tea Party groups who support Joe Lhota to drown out the voices of New Yorkers.”

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The de Blasio campaign also released the web ad above. “The Koch brothers, the secretive oil billionaires,” it says, have “set their sights on New York City” trying “to elect extreme rightwing ideologues here in New York City. And their billionaire friends are trying to change the rules with a lawsuit…so they can funnel millions of dollars more to defeat Bill de Blasio and elect their Tea Party friends into office.”

Although the sky’s now the limit in how much an individual can give to the NYPPP, the conventional wisdom is that it’s too late to help Lhota.

In today’s New York Times, for instance Thomas Caplan, writes, “The ruling, 12 days before the mayoral election, is not likely to change the dynamics of the race, given the wide lead of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, and a presumed reluctance by many potential big donors to donate to an underdog candidate this late in the game.” (The Times figures that the decision will, however, “have a much bigger impact next year” in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid and other New York state races.)  

But I don’t know. Of course, Lhota can’t win, but he can narrow the gap—and, more important, plant a big, fat “I told you so” and establish his influence should a de Blasio administration start to falter.

Lhota had already been on the rise—a bit—since showing a new aggressiveness in the candidates’ second debate, on Tuesday; and with a pro-Lhota group winning this legal case, Lhota himself looks like more of a winner, especially in the eyes of voters and donors who might have otherwise sat out the election.  

He’s certainly bringing a new gusto to his insistence that a Mayor de Blasio would cause crime to explode. In addition to the scary Lhota ad that de Blasio has called “race-baiting,” Lhota has lately been fear-mongering on the stump in almost novelistic detail.

Last night, he warned the Juniper Park Civic Association in Queens that de Blasio would bring back the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s when, he said, “Somebody would smash your window and rip out the dashboard and take your radio and sell it for 25 bucks so they could get a quick hit of whatever their problem was.… I remember walking the streets and thinking I was walking on glass, but I was walking on crack vials.”

Writes Politicker: “The civic association, one of the larger and more organized neighborhood groups in the borough, murmured approvingly.”

But ultimately, economic insecurity will prove scarier than ghost stories of the past. A poll commissioned by AM New York (which just endorsed Lhota for mayor, by the way) that has de Blasio beating Lhota by forty-one points, also found that:  

After 12 years under Bloomberg, majorities wanted city government to provide fewer incentives and favorable policies for corporations and developers while doing more for small business and workers. More than two-thirds believed that under Bloomberg city government paid too much attention to the rich and not enough to the middle class and poor.

At least in this race, too much money from the Kochs and related Citizens United–type groups could backfire.

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