Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a promise when he ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination earlier this year: He would spend “whatever it takes” to defeat President Donald Trump in November, at one point suggesting he could put $1 billion of his $55 billion net worth toward the anti-Trump cause.
Bloomberg lavished money on his own campaign, spending more than $433 million on television ads, according to Kantar/CMAG, and building a massive field operation he promised to keep running regardless of who won the nomination. Even now, nearly six months after he dropped out of the contest, Bloomberg remains the biggest television ad spender of the presidential race by a significant margin, having spent more than four times as much as Trump’s campaign and six times as much as former Vice President Joe Biden.
But as Bloomberg prepares to address the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, his largess has not yet made its way to explicit anti-Trump efforts. While he remains perhaps the Democratic Party’s most significant donor, he dismantled the field operation he pledged to keep open, has not made major donations to any of the major super PACs backing Biden, and has not spent anywhere close to $1 billion.
Bloomberg allies say he is still evaluating how to best spend his money to impact the election.
“You don’t just throw the money out the window and hope it lands in the right place,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who was a co-chair of Bloomberg’s campaign. “There are ongoing discussions with any number of candidates, with [outside groups], and groups and organizations who are either directly involved in politics or helping people register to vote.”
Bloomberg’s dismantling of his political operation after promising he would not do so has left a bitter taste in some quarters, including 2,000 of his former staffers that he swore would be employed through November to defeat Trump. And they are calling for his invitation to speak before the convention to be rescinded.
“I don’t think that what he’s done to his staff is a reflection of what our party stands for and what our party should be in the future,” Nate Brown, a former Bloomberg presidential campaign field staffer, said.
Brown is one of a group of ex-Bloomberg staffers who wrote a letter to DNC chairman Tom Perez to remove Bloomberg from the list of convention speakers. This same group of ex-staffers is currently suing Bloomberg and his presidential campaign for breach of contract after the billionaire former mayor promised to keep staff employed through November whether or not he won the nomination.
The staffers have received some backup from the wider labor movement.
“Mayor Bloomberg should not be speaking unless he makes good on that,” Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said during a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Labor Council on Monday.
A Bloomberg spokesperson said the staffer layoffs were an inevitable part of politics.
“Like every campaign that ends, people were let go,” the spokesperson said. “Unlike other campaigns however, Mike Bloomberg gave his staff health insurance through November as well as severance. Although no one was promised employment through November, Mike Bloomberg remains the biggest supporter of the Democratic Party, including through a transfer of $18 million to DNC organizing efforts to hire hundreds of organizers in battleground states.”
Bloomberg’s presidential bid, which gained steam on the back of his massive spending throughout December and January, came swiftly to an end in March, following an evisceration at the hands of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a debate in Las Vegas. Bloomberg subsequently underperformed in the crucial Super Tuesday states as Biden began his march to the nomination.
Grumbling about Bloomberg’s failure to deliver remains relatively muted for now. Many groups are still hoping for one of the massive cash injections the billionaire can provide, and Democrats are not facing the financial hole against Trump they once feared. Democratic outside groups, powered by other donors cutting checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, have outspent pro-Trump groups so far in the election.
Nutter suggested a deterioration in Biden’s position would trigger action from Bloomberg: “If something changes, I am quite sure that Mike Bloomberg will respond. He wants Joe Biden to win.”
Bloomberg’s plans to keep hundreds of his staff employed while spending up to $1 billion through November were reported in January as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He would keep 500 of his campaign staffers on the ground in battleground states, campaign sources told NBC News in January.
“Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president,” Kevin Sheekey, then Bloomberg’s campaign manager, told NBC News. “He is dedicated to getting Trump out of the White House.”
Bloomberg’s promise to spend up to $1 billion to back the eventual party nominee was reported by The New York Times on Jan. 11.
“You know how much money a billion dollars is?” Bloomberg told the Times. “It’s a lot of money to me. It’s a lot of money to anybody.”
He did hedge his promise here by noting that the total amount of money he would contribute depended on how well, or poorly, the Democratic candidate was faring.
“It depends whether the candidate needs help; if they’re doing very well, they need less. If they’re not, they’ll need more,” Bloomberg said.
So far, Bloomberg has contributed approximately $37 million to Democrats and Democratic-connected outside groups in the 2020 election. He has personally donated $18 million to a handful of super PACs supporting Democratic candidates at all levels and a little more than $840,000 to candidates and political party committees.
His presidential campaign transferred an additional $18 million directly to the Democratic National Committee after he suspended his campaign, money that allowed the committee to rapidly speed up its hiring and field operations in battleground states. Campaign finance watchdog groups have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission alleging this transfer is a violation of campaign contribution limits.
These contributions already make Bloomberg the second largest donor to Democratic Party organizations. And more contributions could still materialize: He has pledged $60 million to help Democrats keep control of the House, with the money split between House Majority PAC, a super PAC controlled by allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and his own super PAC, Independence USA. But they fall far short of the amount party members thought he would spend.
Ex-Bloomberg staffers argue that they were promised to be kept on staff through November to help defeat Trump as part of his “whatever it takes” campaign.
“[T]he Mike Bloomberg 2020 hiring managers expressly promised field staff applicants for Mike Bloomberg 2020 that they would be employed by Mike Bloomberg 2020 to perform work on the primary campaign to elect Michael Bloomberg as the Democratic nominee and election, regardless of whether Bloomberg won the nomination, and stated that the Bloomberg campaign would keep open and financially support its field offices through the general election campaign,” the lawsuit filed by dozens of ex-field staffers states.
In response to the lawsuit, the Bloomberg campaign announced it would pay for its former staffers’ health insurance through November.
“If Democrats want to stand on the stage and talk about who we are and what we believe in, they should walk the walk as well with respect to their own staff people,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer representing the ex-Bloomberg staffers and a former Democratic Party congressional staffer. “To invite Mike Bloomberg is a bridge too far given what he’s done.”