Michael Bloomberg may be a joke online but his billions could be more dangerous to democracy than Trump
In the first instalment of a new column reporting on American politics in this Presidential Campaign year, we ask: what happens when democracy is sold to the highest bidder?
“Racist oligarch fuck Bloomberg,” “corporate pig,” and, more simply, “oligarch”.
These are the words spray painted on Michael Bloomberg’s campaign offices across the US over the last week.
To those on his payroll, it’s scandalous vandalism. “America deserves better,” was the company line tweeted on his official campaign channels. To others, it’s a reminder: a candidate accused of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia – one whose wealth is estimated at a staggering $61.9 billion – is apparently trying to purchase the presidency by any means necessary.
What do you mean by purchase?
For Bloomberg HQ, this involves strategies that sound like bad SNL skits. There was the massive meme-generating campaign spearheaded by a guy from Fuck Jerry (aka the company that tried to make Fyre Fest cool). The hiring of former advertising agency executive Tim Nolan as “creative lead” of the campaign’s digital advertising operation eight years after Nolan’s “Homeless Hotspots” turned 13 homeless men into roving 4G hotspots at SXSW. Then, of course, we had the ingenious strategy of paying 500 people $2500 a month to say nice things about Bloomberg on social media but failing to vet them to make sure they have more than zero Twitter followers and aren’t “a vocal Bernie Sanders supporter”. Still, it’s a drop in the $500 million bucket he’s spent so far in his vision quest to be Oligarch-in-Chief.
What is this “oligarch” business?
Merriam-Webster defines an oligarchy as “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes”. If this already sounds like America, you’re right! With President Trump – a maybe-billionaire (possible “scam artist”) who appears to be demolishing the Constitution like its a McDonald’s buffet – it’s no stretch to say the US is going full-oligarchy. But there’s a key difference between Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg: while Trump’s business background won enough supporters to give him the presidency in 2016, it was the perception of wealth, and not his actual personal fortune, that helped him become president.
Alright, so what can we expect from Big Money Bloomberg?
Watching the billionaire slip up at Tuesday’s South Carolina debate and start to say that he “bought” a Democratic majority in 2018 for $100 million was the *pretends to be shocked* moment of the night. Buying silence and supporters has been the Bloomberg way since 2002 when, as a registered Republican, he became mayor of New York.
He was the kingmaker of the city, a billionaire with both a private media company, Bloomberg L.P., and a philanthropic organisation, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Spanning a decade and three mayoral terms (a feat only possible because he changed the rules to allow a third term), the Bloomberg era in NYC was defined by the massive sums of money he gave to nonprofits, arts groups, corporations, and the media to quiet any resistance they had to his agenda – no matter how allegedly racist (stop and frisk) or xenophobic (Muslim surveillance) his policies were perceived to be.
In the six years since he left the mayor’s office, this torrent of cash hasn’t stopped. Instead, it’s ballooned. He’s poured hundreds of millions into national organisations, nonprofits and the congressional races of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Looking back on this long stretch of tactical philanthropic activity, it feels as though this year’s presidential run is part of something bigger. With a web of charities and advocacy groups relying on his contributions and a readiness to write a cheque for any amount necessary, Michael Bloomberg’s rise in the Democratic primary is the clearest picture yet of what happens when democracy is sold to the highest bidder.
If Team Bloomberg is right about anything in this election, it’s that America deserves better.