Bloomberg Pushes Gun Control by Not Pushing Gun Control

Michael Catalini

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be the face of the gun-control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the chief financier of the similarly focused Independence USA PAC, but don't expect political ads targeting lawmakers to focus exclusively on guns.

President Obama is pushing Congress to take a tough vote on a slate of gun-control issues, including an assault weapons ban, and Bloomberg's PAC is poised to support gun-control advocates and punish opponents.

If the past is any guide--the PAC spent $8.1 million in the 2012 cycle--the ads we could see won't be just about guns. Bloomberg supports gun control, but that doesn't mean the group will overtly mention the issue when targeting lawmakers.  

The highest-profile example of this came in 2012 in California, where Rep. Joe Baca, a pro-gun Democrat, lost his seat to fellow Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod. Bloomberg's PAC dumped over $3 million into the contest and its ad criticized Baca for siding with water polluters. Guns? Didn't get a mention in the TV spot. The reason? Gun control does not necessarily win elections, and winning elections is the name of the game.

"You have twin goals. One is to focus on and elevate the gun issue. The other is to win the race," New York Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson told National Journal last month.

Then there's the case of Republican Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, whom Independence USA criticized as a Washington insider who was cozy with lobbyists. Webster's opponent, Val Demings, was a former police chief and gun-control advocate, and though she lost, the PAC spent about $2.4 million backing her.

Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the point that any gun-control vote in Congress would be tough for a number of members, and he argued that when elections roll around again, "we have a responsibility to support our friends." 

That seems to be a lesson the mayor understands.