The Campaign Finance Campaign

The Bloomberg campaign has been making headlines all month, first for its bold late-entry strategy, and then for the candidate’s rough showing in the Nevada debate. But one thing all the buzz around Bloomberg 2020 shares is awe over the campaign’s war-chest: Mike Bloomberg’s bank account.

Regardless of your opinions on his candidacy or positions, Bloomberg’s insertion of himself as a piece on the board of the 2020 Primary was made possible not by any latent coalition of voters demanding that entry but by his own staggering wealth. As it turns out, $59 billion will open a lot of doors.

That number has allowed him to buy endorsements, hire so many staffers that down-ballot campaigns are having trouble staffing their own operations, and absolutely blanket the nation in ads. The $600 million he’s projected to spend on digital and TV ads alone will be more than the entire DNC raised in 2019. While it’s not exactly true that he “bought his way” into the race, it isn’t inaccurate either. As widely respected digital news outlet Axios put it, “…Bloomberg’s own spending makes it harder for other rivals to cut through — and virtually assures he sucks up significant delegates.” And as Mitch McConnell writes in his memoir, “…the three most important words in politics are, ‘cash on hand.’ ”

As if to illustrate that point, Bloomberg’s flood of capital has completely reshaped the Democratic Field’s relationship with money. Elizabeth Warren famously challenged her competitors not to accept any money from PACs when she entered the race. Last week, Warren announced she would have to back off that pledge in order to stay competitive with Bloomberg’s cash flow. Pete Buttigeig also cited Bloomberg’s wealth when he started a drive to raise $13 million by Super Tuesday. 

Bloomberg, along with the current President, puts the role of money in politics front and center in this election. Both candidates, along with the rest of the campaigns’ fundraising totals, are a stark reminder of the central, influential role that money plays in our political system. They also move fluidly between the roles of Candidate and MegaDonor, allowing them to wield an unusual amount of power and act with or without the consent of their parties. Bloomberg has pledged his staff and spending to whomever wins the nomination, so it’s not a Ross Perot scenario that’s risky here, it’s the extraordinary dependence of each party on a few, hyper-wealthy people.  

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