Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expanding his effort to persuade political donors to write checks only to candidates who pledge to keep New York City's priorities in mind.
Bloomberg has for years lobbied a small group of donors to dole out their cash to candidates who back causes that benefit the city, but now he is expanding the effort by mailing letters to 50,000 New Yorkers who give money to political campaigns all over the country.
"We want you to know about New York City's highest priorities — and as someone who is active in politics, you have the opportunity to call for action on those priorities," Bloomberg wrote in the letter going out Thursday. It has not yet been made public but was shared with The Associated Press.
By reaching out to thousands of contributors in a direct-mail campaign, the effort could have implications on races nationwide.
"It's certainly a novel way to influence the influencers," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. "This is the mayor of the most powerful city in the United States lobbying for his agenda through folks with a lot of influence and clout."
Seven of the 10 ZIP codes that donated the most money nationwide to candidates during the 2008 presidential cycle are in New York City, more than $6 million coming from just one swath of Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Every spring since 2006, the billionaire Republican-turned-independent mayor has gathered wealthy donors for a lunch at the Four Seasons, where he lists the causes he wants them to consider before supporting anyone running for office.
He gives his guests a card for them to keep in their wallets that has a list of his legislative priorities for the year. The intention is that donors will consult the card and question candidates about those issues before writing any checks.
The annual lunch is Thursday. This year, Bloomberg and his organizing partners expanded the effort and wrote letters to 50,000 New Yorkers — all of whom have contributed $200 or more in federal elections from the 2004 cycle until present.
"New Yorkers — Democrats and Republicans alike — provide a disproportionate share of the country's political campaign contributions, but too often those candidates forget about our needs and priorities after their elections," Bloomberg wrote in the letter. "With your help, we can change that."
The letter included a card for the donors to carry and consult before making a donation.
"Don't go to a fundraiser without it!" Bloomberg wrote in the letter.
This year's issues include lifting the state cap on charter schools and urging Congress to pass immigration reform and to require background checks on handgun purchases at gun shows. Another priority is the ongoing effort to persuade Congress to fund a long-term health program for Sept. 11 responders. Past issues have included tighter gun control measures and funding for sick Sept. 11 workers.
Organizers said the mayor widened the project this year largely because of the stronger reliance on small donors during the 2008 presidential campaign.
New York City sends millions of dollars to political candidates nationwide, and the average New Yorker gives 2.5 times more money to federal candidates than other Americans, according to Bloomberg. During the 2008 election cycle, candidates collected more than $114 million from New York donors, second only to California.
Recipients for the letter were found using public data from the Federal Elections Commission. There are likely more than 50,000 New Yorkers who have given $200 or more to federal elections since 2004; the project was only able to reach donors for whom they had accurate home addresses.
Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said the letter is the first of other planned communications with the entire New York City political donor base.
The mayor and his partners in the effort formed a nonprofit that can engage in lobbying and political work. The organization will not be used to raise money and by law cannot be used for a personal political efforts, an important distinction for those who believe Bloomberg still has presidential aspirations after testing the waters in 2008.
It is impossible to measure the true success of the effort or know if donors use the card, also known as NYC Card, but some of the mayor's past goals have been accomplished.
Last year, three of the goals were to eliminate a tax for 17,000 small businesses and freelancers, repeal the so-called Tiahrt Amendments that restricted access to gun-trace data and to renew the law that gave the mayor control of the city school system. All three of those goals were accomplished.
In 2006, one of his goals was to raise the state cap on charter schools from 100 to 250; it was raised to 200.
For the first four years of the card, one of Bloomberg's priorities was to get homeland security dollars allocated to states and cities based solely on the level of threat they face. No progress was made on that goal and it was dropped in 2009. The mayor also gave up on listing his goal to get state and federal help for his affordable housing plan, which he had put on the card in 2007 and 2008.