Bloomberg News, which has started running unsigned staff editorials, has a new one out under the headline "The High Price of Anonymous Cash in American Political Campaigns."
Leave aside the irony of anonymous editorial writers bemoaning the effect of anonymous campaign contributions, as if anonymity is good when it comes to editorials but bad when it comes to television commercials. Here is a passage from the editorial:
Last year, Republican groups won the opacity sweepstakes. Conservative groups relying on anonymous funds outspent liberal ones by 7-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. One such group, American Action Network, used anonymous contributions to pay for 178 airings of an ad .... American Action's chairman, political veteran Frederick V. Malek, refused to disclose his donors and claimed he was unaware of the "specifics" of the ads his group had produced. ... American Crossroads, another group, raised $71 million for the 2010 campaign; it is the brainchild of Karl Rove.
These groups are so "anonymous" that Bloomberg knows the names of the people behind them, Fred Malek and Karl Rove. Some anonymity, there.
The editorial goes on to say that Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid "would do the republic a favor by introducing bipartisan legislation to require disclosure of all political contributions. Anything short of that standard is an invitation to scandal."
But there's a case to be made that anonymous contributions are actually less scandal-prone than non-anonymous ones. After all, if a politician wants, scandalously, to reward a campaign contributor with some government contract, handout, subsidy, ambassadorship, or tax break, in the case of an anonymous contribution, the politician doesn't know whom to reward. In the case of a non-anonymous contribution, it's easier for the politician to return the favor with public funds.
It's not as if Michael Bloomberg, who paid for the editorial trying to prevent other people from spending their money anonymously, is himself averse to anonymous giving. Mr. Bloomberg reportedly gave an anonymous $100 million donation to Johns Hopkins University for stem cell research, an anonymous multimillion-dollar gift to Princeton University for a dormitory and performing arts studio, and $55 million to New York City based arts and social service institutions, which the New York Times described as "ostensibly anonymously" and the Carnegie Corporation described as "through the generosity of an anonymous donor," but the Times also noted "cannot help but benefit the mayor politically."
So it's okay for Mr. Bloomberg to give $100 million anonymously for stem cell research to Johns Hopkins, but if some group that supports stem cell research wants to raise $1 million from anonymous donors for a television commercial criticizing politicians who voted to ban federal funding for stem cell research, the anonymous editorialists at Bloomberg News think that should be illegal, because it's an "invitation to scandal."
Mayor Bloomberg "would do the republic a favor" by coming off the starting line next time, editorial-wise, with something a little better thought-out. I know that starting new things is hard and that there are inevitably some mistakes and growing pains. A few more editorials like that one, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the mayor give the whole Bloomberg View editorial experiment the Cathie Black treatment, pulling the plug on it unceremoniously, cutting losses, and chalking the whole thing up to experience.