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Bloomberg's Half Truths

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CWC PR 208

The “off year” gubernatorial election that’s underway in Virginia is traditionally considered a political bellwether for the next regular election cycle. But now, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to transform the Virginia governor’s race into a referendum on gun control.

Bloomberg has created a front group called “Americans United for Safe Streets.” According to financial filings for the 2008 election cycle, a grand total of twelve Americans “united” to give money to the group, all but three of whom hail from New York City. The 11 donors other than Bloomberg gave a total of $2,255. Bloomberg, by contrast, donated $500,000 from his wealth of billions--more than 99.5 percent of the group’s overall funding.

The group’s “office” is located in the D.C. headquarters of the Skadden Arps law firm, and a member of the law firm staff is noted as an official contact. This generally means there really isn’t any office, just a mail drop for the law firm to keep the group’s paperwork in order.

If the front group were legitimate, it would do a better job of fact-checking its propaganda. The group’s website claims that “After years of decline in the 1990s, in the past few years crime again has been on the rise across America. Since 2004, the FBI reported 3.5% rise [sic] in violent crime.”

In fact, not only has the nation’s violent crime rate declined more than 40 percent since 1991, to a 35-year low, but the FBI reports that “Nationwide, violent crime fell 3.5 percent during the first six months of the year [2008].”

This is not Bloomberg’s first fact-free foray into Virginia politics. The New York Times reported that Bloomberg “has also never been shy when it comes to endorsing politicians around the country who share similar anti-gun views. He did it last year in New Jersey, to take just one example, when he supported Dennis Shulman, a Democrat from Bergen County, against Representative Scott Garrett. (Mr. Shulman lost.) He did it in Virginia in 2007, too, when he supported State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a moderate Republican, against J. Chapman Petersen, a gun-rights Democrat. (She lost, too.)”

For this round, Bloomberg financed a TV ad aimed at the Republican candidate for governor, former Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell. The ad implies that McDonnell’s opposition to new restrictions on gun shows was somehow partly responsible for the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

The nonpartisan media watchdog group “FactCheck”--which is not a fan of the National Rifle Association--called Bloomberg’s ad “A shot off the mark.” FactCheck’s analysis says, “The attack leaves out some important details though. It is true that Seung Hui-Cho was able to procure his guns despite a psychiatric evaluation because he was treated as an outpatient and the information was never entered into a government database. But the ad does not mention that the loophole was closed by an executive order two weeks after the shooting. And that executive order was supported by then-Attorney General McDonnell, who assisted in its creation. We’d also note that Cho did not buy his guns at a gun show.”

The ad also doesn’t note that there is a history between McDonnell and Bloomberg. In 2007, Attorney General McDonnell ordered Bloomberg to stop his bogus, illegal “sting” operations in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and threatened to charge Bloomberg and his private “investigators” with a felony if they continued their antics anywhere in the commonwealth.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg’s allies in the national media have given fawning coverage to his efforts to eliminate gun shows in Virginia. ABC News gave $5,000 to Omar Samaha--the narrator of the ad and brother of a Virginia Tech shooting victim--and sent him into a Richmond gun show. ABC breathlessly reported that Virginia resident Samaha was able to buy guns at the show, which is entirely legal.

But what really happened at the show isn’t entirely clear.

The CBS “60 Minutes” program featured Samaha two days later. On that show, Samaha said he made purchases without identification.

“They either sold me the gun or they said, ‘pay me 15 more dollars and I’ll go without looking at your ID’.” But Samaha told the Washington Post, “One person asked me if I could show him a driver’s license, and I told him I didn’t want to do it, and he said, ‘If you give me 75 more dollars, I’ll give it to you without looking.’” And Samaha related the incident to ABC News by saying, “He’s like, ‘Give me $100 more and I’ll let you go and take the risk.’”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Half a truth is often a great lie.” The Bloomberg campaign is having trouble hitting even that mark.

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