Bloomberg’s Billions Buying Ground Game

An unprecedented spending blitz is upending the campaign.

It’s been widely reported that Mike Bloomberg has spent an enormous sum on television advertising, including an $11 million spot during the Super Bowl. But something else is happening behind the scenes that’s arguably more revolutionary.

Rebecca R. Ruiz reports for NYT that the billionaire’s “waterfall of cash” is transforming the staffing process.

He has deployed his corporation in service of his campaign, reassigning employees from the various arms of his empire and recruiting new ones with powerful financial incentives, including full benefits and salaries well above national campaign norms.

Entry-level field organizing work for Mr. Bloomberg, for example, pays $72,000 annually — nearly twice what other campaigns have offered. In under 12 weeks, Mr. Bloomberg’s operation has grown to a staff of thousands, with more than 125 offices around the country and a roster of slick events featuring swag, drinks and canapés.

He’s renting furnished apartments in luxury high-rise apartments in Manhattan for key staffers. Offering $10,000 to $12,000 a month for key staffers down at the state level. And essentially guaranteeing that money through the general election to work for the Democratic nominee even if he’s not on the ticket. Plus lavish provision for meals, snacks, and similar perks.

Oh, and the various buttons, apparel, and other paraphernalia that most campaigns sell to raise funds? He’s giving those away. And attendees at his rallies are fed decent food for their effort.

Day-to-day, some Bloomberg campaign workers with prior political experience, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about their work for Mr. Bloomberg, described what they saw as an unfathomable luxury: the ability to brainstorm and act on their ideas without concern for costs. The campaign has, for instance, hired 70 staff members in Florida and opened field offices in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

But being forced to think about how to stretch dollars in politics can have its advantages, [veteran Democratic campaign organizer Joe] Trippi said, recalling that in 2004 — when he worked for Howard Dean’s campaign, which broke the record at that time for Democratic presidential fund-raising — “a lot of the things we pioneered were exactly because we had to be that creative.”

Nonetheless, he added, laughing: “Picking between the advantage of being a little bit more creative with your money, versus having the money to do whatever you want to do — most campaigns would pick having more money.”

This is an enormous advantage that nobody in recent memory—or perhaps ever—has had. Not only does this likely attract talented people who couldn’t otherwise afford to work full-time for a campaign, given them unlimited resources to pursue good ideas, but it allows a complete focus on getting out their message and getting supporters to the polls rather than on trying to drum up donations.

But there is a rather sizable downside. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reports “MIKE BLOOMBERG IS HIRING SO MANY OPERATIVES, LOCAL AND STATE CAMPAIGNS ARE STARVING FOR HELP.”

Bloomberg’s spending is having a shockingly disruptive effect on Democratic politics throughout the country: He is hiring armies of staffers and canvassers in nearly every state in the country at eye-popping salaries, poaching talent from other campaigns and progressive organizations that are now struggling to fill jobs.

[…]

Progressive groups, local campaigns, and presidential operations are either losing staff to the Bloomberg campaign, or are struggling to hire people because the former mayor has picked so many political operatives and canvassers up, according to interviews, emails, and messages from dozens of people involved in hiring. Several of them spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity, either not to offend the biggest spender in political history, or not to expose publicly that they are having a hard time finding staff, which the public could perceive as suggestive of weakness.

The report is almost entirely anecdotal and in some cases sounds like sour grapes. But it stands to reason that someone who would like to be on the ground floor of beating Donald Trump would rather do it for a decent salary and lots of perks than for a lousy salary and no perks.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Mike Bloomberg, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. Michael Reynolds says:

    Biden has less money than Klobuchar, who has less money than Pete, who has less money than Bernie, who has less money than Bloomberg.

    I’m all for public financing, but short of that, candidates use the weapons they have available. Bloomberg has no charm, no charisma, no identity group to appeal to. What he has is money. It’s not ‘outside’ money, it’s not lobbyist money, it’s not special interest money, it’s not Putin’s money, it’s his money.

    Money does not make this a sure thing, and he’s not ‘buying the election.’ He’s using what he’s got. Every voter is free to ignore him. He’s playing by the rules and if people don’t like the rules they should change them. Until that happy day, I like having more ammunition rather than less.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Mike is doing a little bit to close the wealth gap. Spreading it around, so to speak. The one thing that I’m uncomfortable with is redeploying employees of his company to run his campaign, particularly since a part of his business is a media company. I’d like to have more information on this before condemning it. Otherwise, it is his money and until the process is reformed…

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  3. Gustopher says:

    He’s renting furnished apartments in luxury high-rise apartments in Manhattan for key staffers. Offering $10,000 to $12,000 a month for key staffers down at the state level. And essentially guaranteeing that money through the general election to work for the Democratic nominee even if he’s not on the ticket.

    This is one of the best things that I have heard about Bloomberg, if true.

    But, reading the article, I’m not seeing it as a clear cut statement.

    For David Enriquez, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the University of Florida now acting as a field organizer for Mr. Bloomberg in Tampa, the pay came as a surprise. “I was expecting 30,000 a year, essentially till March, so whatever that is,” he said, referring to a salary that would have translated to $2,500 monthly. He is receiving more than twice that — $6,000 a month — and he expects his work will continue through November, given Mr. Bloomberg’s pledge to support the Democratic effort to unseat President Trump regardless of whether his own name is on the ballot.

    Mr. Enriquez expects his work will continue…

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  4. mattbernius says:

    Jeebus, if 2020 comes down to two New York billionaires loudly arguing that the other one is more racist then I really will have to vote for the blessed release of the asteroid of doom.

    (Yes, I realize that one of the two probably needs quotes around the billionaire part…)

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yes, I agree. He’s doing nothing that I know about that’s even unsporting. But he’s definitely sucking the oxygen out of the room.

    @Gustopher: Bloomberg has pledged to keep up the spending to defeat Trump. All we have to go on is his word but I believe him. He can afford it, after all.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    @Michael Reynolds:
    He’s taking it to Trump in the way that hurts Trump the most. So, yeah, good.

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  7. Moosebreath says:

    @mattbernius:

    “Jeebus, if 2020 comes down to two New York billionaires loudly arguing that the other one is more racist then I really will have to vote for the blessed release of the asteroid of doom.”

    Even worse, if it comes down to two New Yorkers who spend their time on Twitter exchanging height and fake tan insults.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @mattbernius:
    If it’s Trump vs. Bloomberg I don’t think it will be much about race. It will be normalcy vs. lunacy.

    My sense is that Americans are worn out by Trump’s eternal crises. They want off that roller coaster. I don’t think they want to hop right on another one. I suspect they want to sit down and have a nice, quiet beer.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:
  10. Fortunato says:

    The Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr, merits impeachment. Today.
    His ongoing, flagrant corruption is unprecedented in modern American history.

    Donald Trump just publicly attacked Roger Stone’s jury Foreman.

    The former Captain of the Ohio State wrestling team – who witnessed first hand the sexual predation that Gym Jordan ignored (and is now lying about) for more than a decade – testified before an Ohio House committee on Tuesday that:

    “Jim Jordan called me crying — crying, groveling on the Fourth of July, begging me to go against my brother. Begging me. Crying for a half hour, that’s the kind of cover up that’s going on there,” he said.

    This would of course be the same Gym Jordan who was just promoted. Appointed top Republican on the no less than the House Judiciary Committee.

    Oh wait, I’m sorry..
    you were saying something about Bloomberg having so much money he’ll give away buttons and hire smart people.
    Also… Deval Patrick and Andrew Yang.

    Respectfully – is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that the whole f-ing planet is somehow, off-kilter?

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  11. grumpy realist says:

    Someone (maybe here) pointed out that one thing Bloomberg could do with his money that would REALLY be useful is pay off all the “fines” that are keeping ex-cons down in Florida from getting their voting rights back.

    As it is, the rich dudes are getting their voting rights back and the poor dudes aren’t. That seems unfair to me…

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Someone (maybe here) pointed out that one thing Bloomberg could do with his money that would REALLY be useful is pay off all the “fines” that are keeping ex-cons down in Florida from getting their voting rights back.

    Guilty as charge.

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  13. Kathy says:

    If he succeeds, I hope Bloomberg will fare better than Didius Julianus did.

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  14. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    In my opinion one of the biggest advantages isn’t even mentioned. Anyone else would have to contend with the “is an entry at that late date viable” question. By shifting coverage to his campaign spending he both negates the disadvantages of a late entry and gets instant “electability” numbers because people assume that much money must count for something.

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  15. grumpy realist says:

    OT but WTF? The few old friends and acquaintances who have migrated over to the radical left/right seem to be scaring themselves nuts about the coronavirus. I’ve gotten several increasingly panic-stricken Linked-In and Facebook messages from them.

    (Since some of them have gone down the Trump rabbit hole and the rest have gone down the anarchic-liberal hole I guess this is yet another example of how the political extremes end up at the same place. Sigh.)

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  16. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    While I get the fatigue thing, if a racist billionaire former Republican mayor of NYC can essentially buy the Democratic nomination, one cycle after a racist former Democrat (in part) bought (and media’d his way to) the Republican nomination… then that’s just a sign that really the entire system is just fucked.

    Is Bloomberg more competent? Yes, but that isn’t the point.

    Regardless of final outcome, I think I would have to just join the revolution. I’m pretty much there if Sander’s wins the nomination as well.

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  17. mattbernius says:

    I highly suggest reading this Twitter Thread on what Bloomberg is doing:

    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1227976156936171520.html

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  18. Jax says:

    @mattbernius: Well….many people around here have said quite often that we’re lucky Trump is as dumb as he is, and how much worse it would be if a “smart” politician came along after this willing to take advantage. One who is totally willing to stand on the precedent Trump has set, that Republicans have so willingly ceded to him.

    After reading that thread, I’d say we’re close to that.

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  19. Ken_L says:

    It’s misconceived to talk about Bloomberg ‘buying the election’. Does anybody believe he would have been a serious contender in 2008 if he’d followed the same strategy?

    He’s getting support from people who look at the rest of the field and sigh with disappointment. Apparently he only decided to run because he concluded Biden wouldn’t beat Trump. A lot of other Democrats are presumably coming to the same opinion, not only about Biden but also about Sanders. If Bloomberg can win, he’ll be good enough. Save the arguments about the revolution until the existing republic has been saved.

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  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Ken_L:

    He’s getting support from people who look at the rest of the field and sigh with disappointment.

    Good point. He’s not getting support from me (yet), but I swear I understand the impulse. I am gobsmacked every single day that the Democrats could not manage to find even one average-quality candidate to run this year. I don’t need another Barack Obama; I’d settle for a Hubert Humphrey or John Kerry or even Bruce Babbitt…

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