Mike Bloomberg’s presidential effort redefined campaign lavishness, a billion-dollar behemoth that for a time put the former New York City mayor at the center of the primary conversation until it became clear that many Democrats didn’t want to vote for him.
But after all that extravagance, the TV advertising blitzes, the free campaign memorabilia and outlandish social media ploys to try and boost his own political fortune, Bloomberg has yet to publicly do the same for the Democratic nominee.
After having pledged to help defeat President Donald Trump, Bloomberg has been largely a nonentity on the general election landscape considering his massive primary season spending, according to campaign finance records ending in May. And a Bloomberg spokesperson did not provide an answer on how much more the 78-year-old is willing to spend to boost Biden when responding to a request for comment this week.
“As Mike has said, he supports Vice President Biden in defeating Donald Trump,” the Bloomberg spokesperson said in an email. “We’re currently looking at how to best support Vice President Biden as well as Democratic victories up and down the ballot in November, just as Mike Bloomberg has done in previous cycles.”
The statement sent to The Daily Beast earlier this week, was the exact same as one published in a CNBC story back in May that described the New York Democrat as “plotting a massive spending blitz,” for the former vice president’s 2020 effort.
“He made a lot of pledges at the beginning,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive Democratic strategist. “...'I'm going to do all these things for my staff, I'm going to do all these things for the Democratic party, I'm going to help the nominee.’ And he got great, great press for it. And then he just decided not to.”
The day after Super Tuesday in March, when the billionaire bowed out of the race, he pledged in a statement to “not walk away from the most important political fight of my life.” But according to federal election commission records through the end of May, Bloomberg hasn’t shown he’s willing to spend anywhere near the kind of cash he invested into his own campaign to help former Vice President Joe Biden’s effort.
In January, as Bloomberg’s campaign was building momentum, The New York Times reported that the former New York City mayor could invest a billion dollars to deny Trump a second term, with the paper reporting he could go on to “create a shadow campaign operation for the general election,” in an attempt to help the eventual Democratic standard bearer.
Around that same time according to NBC News, Bloomberg’s campaign chief Kevin Sheekey told the network that “Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president.”
At this point, there’s little evidence that was anything but bravado.
Bloomberg’s 2020 campaign proved to be an expensive and at times surreal presidential undertaking. He didn’t enter the race until late November, spurning the first four early voting states in a nearly unprecedented gambit. He then bet big on Super Tuesday, thinking he could launch himself to the nomination.
For a brief period after Biden’s disastrous Iowa finish and before his campaign came back to life with a resounding win in the South Carolina primary, Bloomberg’s unorthodox and self-funded campaign looked primed to take the moderate standard bearer position away from the former vice president.
That all began to change after Bloomberg was eviscerated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at the Nevada presidential debate, and only further confirmed when the former New York City mayor failed to win any states on Super Tuesday in March, with only a victory in American Samoa to cheer his supporters.
Campaign finance records show Bloomberg self-funded to the tune of over $1 billion, with little to show for the extravagant spending that accompanied such large expenditure. He only earned 51 delegates, according to a tracker from the Associated Press, which meant he invested at least $21 million of his own money for each of them.
Bloomberg quickly dropped out of the race the day after Super Tuesday while pledging to stay in the fight to get Trump out of office.
Days later, Bloomberg faced criticism for staff layoffs, according to Politico, with the news organization reporting that campaign employees were let go even though there was an understanding they would stay on the job “through November.”
Roughly two weeks after ending his presidential run, however, Bloomberg and the Democratic National Committee touted that his campaign had “made an $18 million transfer to the DNC to support the Battleground Build-Up 2020 program,” in a move that the DNC said would help “organizing in key states,” as well as “funding hundreds of organizers.” At the time, Bloomberg’s campaign said in a public memo that the decision was made in lieu of “creating our own independent entity to support the nominee.”
According to a Bloomberg staffer, shifting the money to the DNC also meant that the “campaign transferred 13 office leases to state parties,” which included three locations in Michigan, as well as spots in North Carolina and other individual posts in Wisconsin and Arizona, among others. The same staffer also noted that Bloomberg had donated more than $20 million to a handful of groups this cycle, including a large donation to the House Majority PAC.
But those investments fall well short of what Bloomberg was willing to spend on his own campaign. And even his other political entities seem to be dormant this cycle. Through the end of May, according to the latest campaign finance records, a key Bloomberg-funded super PAC has also been largely dormant. The Independence USA PAC, the former mayor’s major source of spending in the 2018 midterm cycle, had reported no independent expenditures through May of this year, according to federal election commission records.
The super PAC’s website still proudly touts his spending to help Democrats in the 2018 midterms, including that “in July, Mike Bloomberg announced that he would spend $80 million—eventually growing to more than $110 million—to support Democrats this November.”
It was clear in interviews this week that Bloomberg’s past spending has built up goodwill in the party. Because of that, there was limited criticism about Bloomberg not making it clear yet how much he planned on spending to help Biden in November.
“I think he’s been pretty generous up through this point,” famed Democratic operative James Carville told The Daily Beast.
Even former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, who criticized Bloomberg’s presidential run, gave him a pass on not sending more money to Biden’s effort so far.
“I think he's entitled to spend his money as he wishes,” Frank told The Daily Beast “He has been pretty generous. I mean I thought it would have been a terrible idea to nominate him, but over time he's been generous on the causes he cares about.”
Both the Biden campaign and the DNC said in statements this week that they were grateful for Bloomberg’s support so far this cycle, but did not weigh in on whether they would like to see him do more before November.
Bloomberg’s campaign events also proved to be the ritziest in the crowded Democratic field. In North Carolina the weekend before Super Tuesday, his campaign sponsored a drag brunch to emphasize the mayor’s credentials with the LGBTQ community. And on Super Tuesday, as his campaign cratered, voters were treated to loads of free campaign memorabilia, food, and alcohol as it became clear that Bloomberg would not become president.
But the very fact that Bloomberg was able to scale up his own 2020 effort so quickly gave some Democrats hope that the former New York City mayor could make another show of force before November’s election.
"We're in the middle of July, I think there's a lot of time left,” said longtime Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh, who previously worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 but switched to businessman Andrew Yang this cycle. “I certainly hope he engages this fall.”