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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bloomberg Jumps Into \'12 Races With New \'Super PAC\'

Bloomberg Starts ‘Super PAC,' Seeking National Influence

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at a news conference Wednesday. He expects to spend up to $15 million in highly competitive races.

Seeking to reshape a national political debate he finds frustratingly superficial, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York is plunging into the 2012 campaign in its final weeks, creating his own “super PAC” to direct millions of dollars in donations to elect candidates from both parties who he believes will focus on problem solving.

Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire and a registered independent, expects to spend from $10 million to $15 million of his money in highly competitive state, local and Congressional races. The money would be used to pay for a flurry of advertising on behalf of Republican, Democratic and independent candidates who support three of his biggest policy initiatives: legalizing same-sex marriage, enacting tougher gun laws and overhauling schools.

Among those whom Mr. Bloomberg will support are former Gov. Angus King, an independent running for the United States Senate in Maine; State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod, who is challenging a fellow Democrat, Representative Joe Baca of California, who the mayor believes has been weak on gun-control; and Representative Bob Dold, a Republican from Illinois who has backed gun-control measures.

The move reflects an eagerness from Mr. Bloomberg, who is entering the twilight of his tenure as mayor, to help elect candidates he regards as centrist and who are willing to compromise, and grapple with what he sees as grave problems confronting the country.

Up until now, Mr. Bloomberg has played a relatively modest role in politics outside New York, occasionally donating to causes or candidates he favors or holding fund-raisers in his Manhattan town house to support them. But two years ago, he signaled a desire to play a bigger role in combating more extreme forces in American politics. The organization he is now establishing - and the money he will channel into races around the country - represents his most ambitious effort yet, one that will continue after he steps down in January 2014.

“This spending sends a clear message that the mayor intends to keep his wallet open after he leaves office to influence national policy around issues like guns, education and marriage equality,” said one top Bloomberg adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the mayor's future. “If anything, leaving office will free him to do even more.”

Mr. Bloomberg has built a brand of politics that eschews partisanship for blunt-spoken pragmatism, often taking unpopular positions, like restricting guns and soda sizes and supporting the construction of a mosque near ground zero.

He has seemed increasingly irritated by the rhetoric of the current presidential campaign; on Wednesday he described as “gibberish” answers by President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney to a question about an assault weapons ban that was posed during their debate this week.

Mr. Bloomberg has tapped Howard Wolfson, a deputy mayor and a veteran of Congressional and presidential campaigns, to oversee the organization's activities, like determining where to spend money and tailoring the themes of television advertisements. Mr. Wolfson will take a leave from City Hall to run the committee between now and Election Day.

By entering the campaign season at this stage, when less-partisan voters are beginning to pay attention, Mr. Bloomberg and his aides are betting that his financial support can make a major difference in especially close contests.

In all, Mr. Bloomberg intends to invest in as many as a dozen House and Senate races, though exactly which ones has not yet been decided because the mayor and his advisers are assessing how the contests are unfolding and where he can have the most impact. He is prepared to invest as much as $1 million in a given race, which is a significant sum, given that some Congressional candidates spend less than $2 million on their campaigns.

Mr. Bloomberg's move comes in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for a flood of independent expenditures through super PACs, which are playing an outsize role in elections this fall. Though his spending is on a much smaller scale, he is joining other wealthy Americans by bankrolling outside groups to influence elections. These include the Koch brothers, industrialists who have backed conservative causes, and George Soros, the billionaire investor who has championed liberal ones.

Like the other super PACs, Mr. Bloomberg's group - called Independence USA PAC - can spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate or issue, but is prohibited by federal law from coordinating its activities with candidates.

In addition to the state and federal candidates, Mr. Bloomberg's organization will support state legislative and local school board candidates who support his education goals, including more rigorous evaluation for teachers and stricter standards for tenure.

Mr. Bloomberg's political advisers have already identified local candidates he will most likely support in California, Colorado and Louisiana. He is also likely to back ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington that seek to legalize same-sex marriage.

The mayor's super PAC will be registered with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, according to his aides. The overwhelming bulk of his money will be given through that PAC, though he may also use an existing entity of his, a so-called 527, to make some donations. Mr. Bloomberg will disclose all of his spending at the end of the election cycle.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 17, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly included Minnesota among the states with a ballot initiative this fall seeking to legalize same-sex marriage.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 18, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: For Bloomberg, A ‘Super PAC' Of His Making.