Bloomberg to Sell Business if Elected

The mega-billionaire commits to a path quite different from the fake billionaire currently in office.

AP:

Mike Bloomberg would sell the financial data and media company he created in the 1980s — which bears his name and made him a multibillionaire — if he is elected U.S. president, a top adviser said Tuesday.

Bloomberg would put Bloomberg LP into a blind trust, and the trustee would then sell the company, adviser Tim O’Brien said. Proceeds from the sale would go to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable giving arm that funds causes from climate change to public health and grants for American cities.

The only restriction Bloomberg would put on the sale is that it not be sold to a foreign buyer or a private equity company, O’Brien said. Bloomberg, a Democrat, is currently chief executive of the company.

“We want to be 180 degrees apart from Donald Trump around financial conflicts of interest,” O’Brien told The Associated Press. “We think it’s one of the biggest stains on the presidency, and Trump’s record is his refusal to disengage himself in his own financial interests. And we want to be very transparent and clean and clear with voters about where Mike is on these things.”

Indeed, as one of the world’s wealthiest people, Bloomberg would have an extraordinarily complicated financial picture to untangle if he wins the presidency. His commitment to selling the company stands in stark contrast to the Republican Trump, who refused to fully divest from his business, instead putting his assets in a trust controlled by his two adult sons and a senior company executive. He has continued to make money from his properties.

Bloomberg said in 2018, when he was considering a presidential run, that he would consider selling his business if elected. The company is not currently for sale. He retained ownership in the company when he served as New York City mayor from 2002 to 2013, but gave up his title of chief executive.

Had he been running four years ago, this would have been a non-story. Of course he would divest himself of his business and media empire. What else could he do? Hell, Jimmy Carter was forced to sell off the family peanut business to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.

But Trump thumbed his nose at both norms and the law with zero consequence. It would be perfectly conceivable for a President Bloomberg to not only have a multi-billion dollar business but his own news agency. What fun that would be!

But Bloomberg is so much richer than any previous President that actually doing what he’s committed to doing would be extraordinarily complicated.

If he won the White House, the exact timeline for a sale isn’t clear, O’Brien said. There’s also been no decision on what would happen to Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said such an action would need to follow complex rules and be approved by the ethics office. The administer of the blind trust would need to be an institution, not a person, and it’s not clear how a trustee would navigate confidentiality requirements when trying to sell off a private company, Shaub said. There are no comparable examples of any executive branch official putting a large private company into a blind trust and up for sale, he said.

He said it would be smart for every candidate to set up meetings with the office now to begin discussing potential conflicts of interest.

“Bottom line: It could be a costly mistake for any candidates to make firm commitments to establish qualified blind trusts without first having their attorneys meet with OGE’s Director and legal staff,” Shaub tweeted.

What Bloomberg is committing to here is in one sense rather extraordinary: he’s promising to not only sell off the business but to donate the proceeds to charity. Granted, his charity.

While different from the Clinton Foundation in that it’s self-funded rather than soliciting contributions, removing one set of conflicts of interest, having tens of billions of dollars to donate would be an untenable position for a sitting President. It would buy an awful lot of silence.

That we’re having this conversation about a man who isn’t even on the ballot in the early primary states—and won’t take the debate stage for the first time until tonight—seems absurd. That’s doubly so given that he’s a plutocrat with some decidedly un-woke views in a party that’s seemingly on a progressive wave. But, for the moment at least, he’s looking like the most plausible alternative to a Bernie Sanders nomination.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Democracy, Donald Trump, Economics and Business, Mike Bloomberg, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    That we’re having this conversation about a man who isn’t even on the ballot in the early primary states—and won’t take the debate stage for the first time until tonight—seems absurd.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures…

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  2. Barry says:

    I’ll file this under ‘I will release my tax returns’.

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  3. Cheryl Rofer says:

    LOL. Also ha ha ha and ha.

  4. Kathy says:

    How many shares of Bloomberg’s company, and how many does he own?

    I assume many millions and a high percentage of many millions. So don’t sell the company, divide it among the US population.

    On a completely unrelated topic, I assume in most jurisdictions it’s illegal to pay someone to vote for a specific candidate (vote buying). But is it legal, overall, to pay people in order to vote? I mean, you don’t care whom they vote for, but you’ll pay them, say, $100 if they do vote.

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  5. Barry says:

    James, your subtitle is: “The mega-billionaire commits to a path quite different from the fake billionaire currently in office.”

    I don’t understand how he ‘commits’ to anything. If he doesn’t do it, what are the consequences?

  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Yes, Trump has run over the country several different ways in an 18-wheeler but we can’t guarantee in advance that Bloomberg won’t jaywalk.

    I can live with that uncertainty.

    Sidenote: I’m seriously considering that Bloomberg will win this thing. He’s got the flaws of his generation and a lot of baggage, but he’s showing more political smarts that I would have given him credit for based on his mayoralty history. He knows that the only person to attack is Trump and he’s focussed on that. He’s already running a regular election campaign while the others are tearing themselves down going after the nomination. I’m not thrilled with him but he’s surprising me.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    I agree, he’s doing well. I thought he might, but he’s outperforming.

    But it probably won’t work. California votes on March 3, that’s in less than two weeks. If Bernie takes CA by a significant margin – and that’s sure how it looks – I think we’re going to have a very hard time denying him. Watch the Latino vote in CA, and TX, and the African-American vote in NC and VA, they’re the deciding factor. The only way to sway the Bernie fans to accept a non-Bernie outcome is if AA’s and Latinos back Bloomberg or magically coalesce around someone else. If they don’t veto Bernie he’s probably got this.

    We are between two unprovable general election theories: 1) Bernie summons unknown voters and a coalition of yutes, Latinos and fantasy rednecks carries him to victory, or, 2) Bloomberg rallies the suburbs and deploys his money, and a combination of minorities and the college educated vote carries the day.

    I’ll take either. But I suspect in a choice between a fascist and a communist, the country will prefer the fascist.

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    If he doesn’t do it, what are the consequences?

    Ah yes, there’s the rub–as the immortal bard would say.

    ETA: “…will prefer the fascist.” Check your pre WWII history; preferring the fascist is not that far-fetched.

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  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I’m going to do something I rarely do, and never do in print.

    I’m willing to put down a hard prediction that Bloomberg will win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Barring a sudden revelation that he sacrifices children by the full moon or rapes goats on a nightly basis or some such thing. But Bloomberg as is, could take this.

    It’s going to occur to Democrats as they get closer to the the end that Trump is thrilled that Sanders could be the nominee, and that he would have an epic pants-wetting at the idea of Bloomberg giving back insult for insult during the campaign. He would know just how to pound Trump’s buttons every time and not get bogged down in policy debate.

    We don’t have the electorate we think we do; that fantasy got smashed to bits in 2016. Enough Americans are scared of life enough to go for a Strong Man Who Will Bend Steel With His Bare Hands And Save Us All. Well, Bloomberg is enough of a strong man that he could satisfy those fears and be moderate-lite enough to provide moral cover for Democrats if they squint. He’s far from perfect, but perfect isn’t running. The only consideration for Dems should be: can he beat Trump in the general? I think the answer is yes, he’s the only one.

    Serious question: NY isn’t my state. Did Bloomberg do anything like the kind of grifting in office that Trump did? Did he ever try to skim the creme from the pot?

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    Bloomberg truly seems to be a rich man who truly is interested in public service. This isn’t some Koch brother dabbling in Libertarianism as a hobby but in reality using such philosophy to give his political but-boys enough cover to pretend they are not for sale. He really seems to fall into the Kennedy mode of being willing to make personal sacrifices in order to do what he thinks is right. It’s perfectly legitimate to call him on the “what he thinks is right” part. But he certainly didn’t run for Mayor of NYC to enrich himself and none of what he has backed since with his personal fortune falls into the “it benefits Mike” category. I mean, gun control?

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  11. wr says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: ” NY isn’t my state. Did Bloomberg do anything like the kind of grifting in office that Trump did? Did he ever try to skim the creme from the pot?”

    No, he merely locked up people peacefully protesting the Republican convention in jail for days with no charges, with the police pretending that somehow it would take until the end of the convention to process them. And he set up an intelligence division to spy on Muslim citizens. And he ordered the police to randomly harass any and all minorities living in the city on the principal that because some minorities are criminals, the way to stop crime is to treat all minorities as criminals. And he paid off the powerful in the city — from politicians to the press — to eliminate term limits for him only because he wanted a third term.

    He’s not Trump, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous and a potentially terrible president. It would mean we’d have to wanna-be dictators in a row, and the second one would be smart enough to pull it off.

    I don’t know how our democracy recovers from the one-two punch of Trump and Bloomberg.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    We don’t have the electorate we think we do; that fantasy got smashed to bits in 2016.

    I’ll say! If we did, Trump would have lost in all 50 states. At the least, with such an imaginary electorate, he should have lost in several red states.

    I don’t know Bloomberg well, but he doesn’t strike me as one who’d step all over the law and prevailing norms. I don’t think the Democratic party will fall in line behind him, either. The House, and if we’re lucky the Senate, will rather enact parts of his agenda in exchange for legislation the party actually wants. At least he has political and executive experience.

    So he own’t be as bad as Trump. But, as we keep saying, that’s a bar set so low you need to dig deep to find it.

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  13. Not the IT Dept. says:

    @wr: He’s not Trump…

    Exactly. And that will be good enough for me. This fall is crucial to getting the country back to something approximating a norm. If that means Bloomberg, then I’ll live with that.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @wr:

    And he set up an intelligence division to spy on Muslim citizens.

    Look, I’m not even sure I like Bloomberg, and am unlikely to vote for him in the primary. But this is revisionism. A more honest way to frame this is “After having thousands of people murdered by people publicly and loudly proclaim they were acting in the name of Islam, Bloomberg accepted the police claim that it was necessary to pay special attention to those organizations most publicly proclaiming alliance with Islam.” You can claim he focussed too long, but if your argument is that it was somehow immoral to take a close look at those who championed the same thing as the terrorists, well, F you and the horse you rode in on. My community lost 7 people: firemen, police officers, and WTC workers, because a bunch of crazies killed them and publicly and loudly proclaimed they did it in the name of Islam. My daughters soccer coach lost two brothers and his father. If you are now saying the cops were bigoted because they looked at Islamists to see if they shared the same world view, well, you are an idiot.

    Does that make me a racist in your eyes? So be it. I know dozens of Muslims that I now would never align themselves with such depravity. But if they were part of a group that sounded even a little like they supported the same things as the murderers espoused then, yes, they deserved a second look. If it went beyond that then, yes, too far. But to expect the police to sit on their hands because in retrospect Muslims as a whole did not support such depravity, well, it is revisionism.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t know how our democracy recovers from the one-two punch of Trump and Bloomberg.

    As opposed to a double dose of Trump?

    But how petty, James. Is this where your psyche now resides?

    Oh the irony…it burns…again, the self-awareness is sorely lacking…

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