Financial Times

If Michael Bloomberg wants to buy the FT...

December 11, 2012: 12:16 PM ET

michael_bloomberg.gi.topDoes Michael Bloomberg need permission to work on possible FT acquisition?

FORTUNE -- There was a weekend report that Bloomberg LP is thinking about making an offer for the Financial Times Group, which includes both the FT and a sizable stake in The Economist.

Actually, the story never explicitly refers to Bloomberg LP. Instead, it keeps talking about the company's namesake, current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Seems he visited FT's London headquarters back in October, and would be involved in any decision of this magnitude.

So it got me to wondering about the rules that Mayor Bloomberg must follow, when it comes to participating in Bloomberg LP business. He recused himself from day-to-day operations upon taking office, but retained his ownership stake -- thus prompting him to seek an opinion from the NYC Conflicts of Interests Board.

Here was the relevant part:

"Mr. Bloomberg is further advised to be sensitive to the need to ascertain the extent of any City business dealings involving entities engaged in, or negotiating to become engaged in, Bloomberg L.P. matters that may significantly affect the value of his ownership interest (e.g., major purchases, sales, or borrowings) and to consult the Board for further guidance before becoming involved in such Bloomberg L.P. matters."

In other words, Bloomberg should consult the Conflicts of Interest Board if he's actively involved in FT due diligence. I don't imagine the newspaper has any major business with the City, but there could be some. For example, I'm pretty sure the FT still has some sidewalk boxes, there could be advertising relationships (City taking out ads, etc.) and the paper's journalistic activities (read: access)

But here's the catch: Whether or not Bloomberg actually consults the board is confidential. So there is no way to know if he's following the opinion – unless, of course, a deal occurs, the board later receives a complaint and later finds him in violation. Or if Bloomberg himself were to divulge the request. So I called up his press office, but it so far has declined to comment.

I understand the reason for such confidentiality, since it helps encourage potentially-conflicted public officials to seek advice. But it's yet another reason why folks like Michael Bloomberg probably should divest/resign/etc. when reaching high elective office (not just promising to do so later). Just imagine the uproar if Romney had still been involved in Bain decision-making...

For the record, FT owner Pearson PLC continues to insist that it isn't seeking to sell the salmon-tinged newspaper. And, also for the record, almost nobody seems to believe them.

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