In a staggering reversal, Mike Bloomberg announced on Friday that he will not launch a super PAC or other new independent political group to help defeat President Donald Trump as he promised. Instead, he transferred $18 million from his presidential campaign committee to the Democratic National Committee and announced some state offices would be moved to state Democratic parties.
The billionaire ex-New York City mayor had previously promised to spend “whatever it takes” to defeat Trump in November, and his top staffers regularly promised to mount a massive, unprecedentedly well-funded effort to defeat Trump even if Bloomberg’s presidential bid failed. Staffers were encouraged to join the campaign with a promise they would remain employed through the general election.
“Either it is going to be the best primary campaign in American history, or the greatest IE that has ever been created,” Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, told The Washington Post in January. The Bloomberg campaign boasted its staffers would be paid through November, with the campaign’s massive field operation generating enthusiasm and turning out voters for the Democratic nominee.
Friday’s announcement appears to be a massive backtrack. Although $18 million is a huge sum, it is just 4% of the more than $500 million Bloomberg spent on his own unsuccessful bid for the nomination. That bid involved setting up unprecedented numbers of field offices and blanketing the airwaves with television ads attacking Trump and boosting his campaign.
“People were really bamboozled into taking these jobs, when they would have been far better off taking another one.”
Staffers who remained employed with the campaign in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin received word on Friday that their jobs were ending. Some of these staff will be transferred to state Democratic parties for the month of April.
A former Bloomberg 2020 staffer, whose roles included hiring manager, said the campaign told him to stress the job guarantee to potential candidates.
“They were very specific about what we can and can’t say and when, and the job guarantee was one of the things we were encouraged to emphasize to everyone but especially to any wavering candidates: ‘As long as you’re willing to move, you have a guaranteed job through November,’” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize future employment.
The former staffer shared a copy of an interview template sent out by the Bloomberg 2020 headquarters. Under a list of benefits, it reads: “Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg (not guaranteed location you are at now).” The job guarantee was again listed as a benefit in the hiring paperwork, right alongside things like health care and dental insurance.
This staffer’s office, in a northeastern state, hired staff from as far away as Ohio, North Carolina and Texas. One staffer who came from far away lived in his car so he could put his paycheck toward paying his considerable student debt.
“It is bewildering that one of the richest men in the world, whose net worth is well above $50 billion, at least before this crisis ― greater than many countries’ GDPs put together ― is unwilling to provide for and live up to a promise he made to the people who uprooted their lives,” the former staffer said. “They committed to him, and he won’t commit to them at a time of global pandemic.”
“People were really bamboozled into taking these jobs, when they would have been far better off taking another one,” he added.
Ex-Bloomberg campaign staffers are now encouraged to fill out a Google form if they are interested in a DNC campaign job. The list of names compiled from these forms will be passed on to the DNC as it makes hiring decisions in swing states ahead of the general election. These new jobs will not pay the cushy salaries Bloomberg had promised would last through the election.
There was little indication Bloomberg had immediate plans for substantial donations to other major Democratic super PACs ― including Priorities USA, the party’s largest super PAC, or Unite The Country, which has backed former Vice President Joe Biden throughout the primaries ― or organizations, though the billionaire didn’t cut major checks to Democratic groups until late summer during the 2018 election cycle.
Even if Bloomberg’s efforts do scale back, he’ll remain one of the most important Democratic Party donors. In recent weeks, he has given $500,000 to Voto Latino, which works to register and turn out Latino voters in key states; $2 million to progressive group Swing Left; and $2 million to Collective Future, which will use it to turn out Black voters in the south and Midwest.
In a memo released Friday, Bloomberg’s campaign committee said the plans to donate to the DNC and not form a new group were a way to minimize redundant efforts and centralize the anti-Trump campaign effort.
“While we considered creating our own independent entity to support the nominee and hold the President accountable, this race is too important to have many competing groups with good intentions but that are not coordinated and united in strategy and execution,” the memo states.
Bloomberg’s campaign will also transfer “several of its former field offices to state parties and help accelerate the hiring pace for important positions in organizing, data, and operations across key battleground states,” in addition to the $18 million donation, to the DNC.
“It’s very troubling that Bloomberg appears to be evading the federal contribution limits of an individual to a party committee.”
Bloomberg’s run ended after a disappointing showing on Super Tuesday. He won just a single jurisdiction ― American Samoa ― and finished fourth in delegates, behind Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
The campaign of Biden, whose leads in public polling and the delegate count all but ensure he will be the party’s nominee, praised Bloomberg’s donation in a statement.
“The Democratic Party stands united and fully committed to defeating the most dangerous president in modern history, and we welcome the announcement of Mayor Bloomberg’s extraordinary investment to ensure that happens,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. “We need to compete with the war chest that Donald Trump, the RNC, and their right-wing allies have amassed, and this will go a long way in ensuring that we can fund the grassroots efforts in key battleground states that will be necessary to win this November.”
But this massive donation, plus the stated transfer of resources, raises significant concerns about whether Bloomberg is violating federal laws limiting campaign contributions from individuals to political parties.
As an individual donor, Bloomberg can only donate $355,000 to the DNC per year. That includes one $35,500 donation to the party’s main campaign account and three donations of $106,500 to separate accounts for legal, building and convention accounts. But candidate committees, like Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, are technically allowed to make unlimited transfers to the political party committees they are affiliated with.
Bloomberg’s campaign presents “novel challenges” because it was funded entirely with his own money, according to Beth Rotman, campaign finance expert at Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government nonprofit. This makes the $18 million donation through his campaign look like a new way to evade the contribution limits put in place to deter corruption and ensure equality in political campaigns.
“It’s very troubling that Bloomberg appears to be evading the federal contribution limits of an individual to a party committee,” Rotman said.
Common Cause is considering filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission challenging this donation.