‘Unprecedented’: How Bloomberg weaponizes his billions

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has pumped more than $360 million of his personal fortune into his upstart bid for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

That is already more than any candidate has ever spent on any primary campaign.

Recent polls show Mike Bloomberg closing in on frontrunner Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. / C-SPAN

And Bloomberg has yet to even face voter scrutiny, analysts note, as he has skipped the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina primaries.

Bloomberg “could theoretically spend just 10 percent of his $62 billion net worth and it would come close to equaling the total cost of all federal elections held in 2016,” Paul Blumenthal wrote in a Feb. 16 analysis for HuffPost. “There is zero precedent for this level of spending in any political campaign in American history.”

The unprecedented cash dump into a primary campaign has paid off for Bloomberg. Since inundating the airwaves and Internet with ads, Bloomberg has steadily risen in the polls.

A Feb. 18 NPR/PBS/Marist poll found Bloomberg at 19 percent, trailing only Bernie Sanders. A Feb. 18 Monmouth poll for the Virginia Democratic primary found Bloomberg tied with Sanders.

That is quite a leap for Bloomberg in a short period. In a Jan. 26 ABC News/Washington Post poll for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Bloomberg polled at just 7 percent, trailing Joe Biden, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Bloomberg “could simply buy the election with hundreds of millions of dollars of ads,” Sanders said on Feb. 10. “That is wrong. That is the basic, fundamental problem of American society is that billionaires have extraordinary wealth and power over the economic and political life of this country.”

Blumenthal noted that “The distorting effects of Bloomberg’s campaign are already apparent. His torrent of television and online advertising has already driven up prices for ad purchases for the other campaigns. He is paying campaign staff rates that match corporate salaries, which other campaigns cannot afford and is draining the pool of political staffers from campaigns down-ballot. He is also offering staff corporate-style benefits including free laptops and three free catered meals a day. His events feature free food and alcohol for attendees. He is paying Instagram influencers to do sponsored content to help him get free media.”

Bloomberg’s “past, present and potential future political and charitable giving is also distorting the race,” Blumenthal wrote. “He has deployed his billions over the years to gain allies, silence critics and paralyze everyone else. No one wants to anger the billionaire who could keep their campaign, nonprofit or cause afloat.”

In the 2018 midterm elections, Bloomberg’s $95 million in donations made him the top donor to Democratic Party super PACs. Independence USA PAC, his personal super PAC, backed four members of Congress who have since endorsed his presidential campaign. He also contributed nearly $2 million to the EMILY’s List super PAC, named Women Vote!, in 2018. Bloomberg was the keynote speaker at the annual event for EMILY’s List in 2018.

“As New York City mayor, Bloomberg routinely used his fortune to silence critics and buy support with charitable donations to Black churches, social service groups, cultural nonprofits and other causes,” Blumenthal noted. “When he pushed the New York City Council to change the law so he could run for a third term, he pressured groups that had received his largesse to provide supportive testimony. They did.”

Through the American Cities Initiative, Bloomberg has funded arts and cultural programs in cities across the country. The mayors of those some of those cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C., now back his presidential campaign.

“Bloomberg is only now beginning to face scrutiny over his record and previous statements on the range of issues from Wall Street power, stop-and-frisk, transgender rights, sexism and sexual harassment and civil liberties,” Blumenthal noted. “The curtain is only slowly being pulled back on his long public record. If he steps on the debate stage, voters will finally be forced to pay attention to the man behind it.”

Another way Bloomberg’s billions are buying political influence is via the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law, which “is advancing his climate change agenda behind the scenes with the help of one Democratic state attorney general at a time,” Valerie Richardson reported for The Washington Times.

Since its founding in 2017, the Bloomberg center has “quietly planted climate lawyers — paid by the center — with Democratic attorneys general in nine states and the District of Columbia despite alarm over what Republicans call his ‘liberal mercenaries,’ ” Richardson wrote.

Founded with a $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the center has embedded climate lawyers in attorneys general offices in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Oregon.

The next state may be Michigan. A cache of emails obtained by Energy Policy Advocates showed the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel entering into discussions to bring on a Bloomberg-funded “special assistant attorney general” as her staff considered climate litigation against Exxon Mobil.

David Hayes, executive director of the State Impact Center, “is keenly interested in supporting the MI AG office,” Skip Pruss, Michigan special assistant attorney general, said in a June 12 email.

“The IC funds the salaries of 17 Law Fellows who serve as SAAGs in their respective states,” said Pruss, who was not hired via the program. “State AGs recruit and select their own Law Fellows. (Although the program is completely transparent and ethical, it may engender backlash.)”

Michigan Deputy Attorney General Kelly Keenan replied, “This is very interesting. I will see about getting something scheduled.”

Republicans have accused Bloomberg of bypassing the legislative process and leveraging the power of public prosecutors to crack down on the oil and gas industry. They call it a sign of things to come at the Department of Justice if Bloomberg wins the White House in November.

Chris Horner of the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, who secured the emails on the Environmental Protection Agency’s behalf through open records requests, said the latest emails “provide a case study in the capture of an AG’s office.”

“This scheme by an activist donor [Bloomberg] to place attorneys in AG offices to advance his priorities is on its face staggering,” said Horner. “That the activist developed it while more broadly cultivating support among elected officials at all levels through his foundation, and apparently with a run for the White House also in mind, makes it simply unbelievable.”

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