This isn’t about Mike Bloomberg, specifically. There have been plenty of good pieces written that comb over the former New York City Mayor’s record and highlight parts that either are unpalatable to Democratic values or at the very least, strategic vulnerabilities against Trump and I won’t rehash those arguments now. Instead, I want to focus on what might be the most pernicious long-term damaging effect of both Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer’s candidacies: their money and its ability to bend politics to their will.
If they are successful in their bid to purchase the presidency, then they will have validated it as an effective strategy, ensuring that every presidential election going forward will contain at least one billionaire unleashing a financial force upon the primary that no other candidate can even hope to match. Here is a simple visualization of the problem in three charts.
First, the money raised by the final six non-billionaire candidates.
Now here’s that same chart with Bloomberg and Steyer included.
Lastly, the money raised by each candidate from small-dollar donors.
Between the final eight candidates in the race, $489.7 million has been raised.
Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg account for 73% of that total.
Between the final eight candidates in the race, $60.2 million in small-dollar donations has been raised (45% of the total money raised by the non-billionaire candidates).
Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg account for 1% of that small-dollar total (which is basically just Steyer, Bloomberg has raised less than $200 from small-dollar donors).
They don’t need us, and they can financially steamroll every single candidate, no matter if they have a small dollar army like Bernie Sanders or major party funding like Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden. The fact that this strategy has already purchased both Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg a seat at the Super Tuesday table ahead of well-known Senators with institutional backing like Kamala Harris or grassroots-backed candidates like Andrew Yang is troubling.
One of the supposed appeals of the billionaire candidate is that they cannot be bought because they already have all the money. But as a rudimentary examination of FEC reports prove, they don’t need your money either. They are unaccountable to no one thanks to the massive powers that come with being a billionaire. These people are in effect, nation-states of their own creation (Mike Bloomberg’s $64 billion net worth is larger than the annual GDP of countries like Croatia, Uruguay and Jordan). What we are witnessing is two primaries: the normal one being run in by Senators, Governors, and Mayors, and the billionaire primary being run almost exclusively on TV.
Mike Bloomberg skipped the opening states in favor of blanketing the airwaves ahead of Super Tuesday in hopes of consolidating enough support to become the anti-Bernie candidate going forward. His pitch is explicitly about the vast resources he could bring to the race and their supposed ability to defeat Donald Trump.
But what happens if we get what he wants, and Mike Bloomberg ascends to the presidency? Sure, Trump may be gone, but now Bloomberg would get to combine the vast power he amassed as a billionaire with that of the presidency, meanwhile every billionaire in America will be wondering “why not me?”
What Bloomberg and Steyer are doing to the primary is proving how relatively cheap that standard political donations are for the billionaire class, and how naïve the term “donation” is—it’s an investment. But when it comes to betting on themselves, this nation’s financiers can play a different game than everyone else. In effect, a successful Bloomberg candidacy pushes us further into our Citizens United dystopic future, and ensures that plutocrats will have an even bigger influence on politics than they did before the existence of President Trump.
Let’s go one step further and assume that Tom Steyer finishes in 2nd in Nevada and in 2nd in South Carolina ahead of Sanders (both are realistic possibilities given current polling), and he begins to amass the kind of momentum that Mike Bloomberg has created as of late, with the two of them combining to equal Bernie Sanders’ support. If they pledged to combine resources to try to amass 50% of the delegates before Bernie can, that would dramatically distort politics as we know it. By conventional political calculations, Sanders is a fundraising juggernaut boosted by the only donor base larger than President Trump’s—and his paltry $34.6 million raised pales in comparison to the $357 million that Steyer and Bloomberg have—not to mention how much more they could leverage out of their combined $65.6 billion net worth and the infrastructure that brings along with it.
Perhaps the best way to summarize the interests of the billionaire class is to look at one very early cycle of donations from Bloomberg L.P., the former mayor’s company that he promised he would sell if he ascended to the presidency, which has given $6,718 to Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Yes, you read that correctly. Mike Bloomberg is campaigning on being the guy who can beat Trump in 2020, all while his company gives money to Trump’s 2020 campaign and the Democrats hail his entrance into the race as a good thing. This is where our politics are at right now.
The company has also donated to the 2020 presidential campaigns of Pete Buttigieg (its highest 2020 donation at $17,642), Andrew Yang ($9,880), Joe Biden ($7,129), Steve Bullock ($1,780), Jay Inslee ($661), Beto O’Rourke ($655), Julian Castro ($621), Marianne Williamson ($436), Mike Gravel ($131), and John Delaney ($115). Bloomberg L.P. has also given to countless House and Senate candidates (mostly Democrats), including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s Senate funds. The fact that Bloomberg L.P. has donated to Marianne freaking Williamson and the teens playing Weekend at Bernie’s with Mike Gravel, but not to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaigns tells you a lot about how Bloomberg L.P. views those candidacies.
This is how plutocracy works (or oligarchy for those who don’t let American media’s connotations replace the dictionary definition of words), and why democracy exists—to serve as a check on the power of kings and capital. Oligarchs donate to everyone so that way they ensure no matter who wins the election, they have a seat at the table. Bloomberg 2020 is an escalation in this strategy, as instead of trying to purchase the seat, plutocrats are now trying to buy the whole damn table and the building which houses it. A vote for Bloomberg or Steyer may be viewed in the short-term as simply an anti-Trump vote, but long term, it is an implicit invitation to the rest of the billionaire class to invade our politics far more than they already have.