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Michael Bloomberg Isn’t Really Running For President, And That Should Worry You

Michael Bloomberg at the left-wing Center for American Progress. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

There is very good reason to believe Michael Bloomberg isn’t actually running for president.

Of course, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. For one, he declared he is. He’s also hired more than 1,000 staff and is still expanding, offering salaries far above campaign averages. This week, he became the first of the declared candidates to have campaigned in all 14 states of March 3’s Super Tuesday primary battle, and he’s spent a quarter billion on political advertising so far. All would point toward Bloomberg indeed running for president.

But here’s the snag: He wanted to do all of this anyway. Everything, that is, but the declaration bit. That, he was loathe to do. But the staff, the ad spending, the campaigning — he was going to do all of this to defeat President Donald Trump already, and we know this because he told us so.

As early as February 2019, the billionaire pledged he’d spend at least $500 million to defeat the president as either a candidate or as what Politico called “a shadow political party for the Democratic nominee.” That massive spend, the report continued, represents “just 1 percent of Bloomberg’s estimated net worth.”

Just a month later, the wealthy New Yorker laughed at the idea he would ever run for president, mocking “Amtrak Joe” Biden for apologizing “for being male, over 50 [and] white,” and Beh-tóh O’Rourke, who Bloomberg joked had “apologized for being born.” Well, a few months later he jumped in anyway. But does the world-renowned winner have any intention of actually winning the nomination?

We might all agree it is strange to hear the hyper-competitive Bloomberg declare he will pay his sizable staff to work on behalf of the people who are supposed to be his primary opponents. His “army of some 500 staffers will march on through the general election in November even if he loses the Democratic nomination, campaign officials [told] NBC News” back when he employed a measly 500 staffers.

Of course, Bloomberg has said the same of the now $2 billion he’s reportedly willing to spend for any campaign to defeat Trump.

This magnanimity in defeat doesn’t seem to square with Michael Bloomberg, cut-throat capitalist billionaire, but it does make sense when viewed in the light of his Bloomberg News empire, which loses money every year. The losses don’t seem to bother Bloomberg, because in this aspect of business he is a man who wants his ideas in the world and is willing to pay to make it happen.

So why declare? Simply put, the billionaire mayor gets a lot more for his money as a candidate than he ever could as a donor or even as the operator of a super PAC.

First, there are limits to what a donor can give a campaign, and $2 billion is way out of the question. Even so, Bloomberg could pour billions into an organization to sway elections, as Charles Koch and George Soros seek to do. Then, there’s something campaigns have that no PAC has — and that’s access to the best rates the market has to offer.

See, super PACs pay more for everything. And not a little more: Depending on the spend, these outfits pay maybe double what a candidate for office must pay for advertisements in digital, radio, cable, newspapers, network television, and even mail.

By law, candidates for office are entitled to the best treatment a station can give. “In the 45 days before a primary and the 60 days before a general election,” Radio & Television Business Report explains, “legally qualified candidates get the lowest rate for a spot that is then running on the station within any class of advertising time and particular daypart.”

If a private entity earned a bonus spot, the ability for his ads to preempt other ads, or any other perks, those must also be made available to the person running for office. Someone is getting a deal for buying in bulk? Then so is the candidate, even if the campaign isn’t buying in bulk. And on and on.

Super PACs, on the other hand, get no such perk or protection, and are often treated as whipping boys and charged rates far higher than others.

And of course there’s the reputational aspect. Selfless and successful businessman who is generous to his opponents when they have common cause, versus bellicose billionaire spending untraceable money in the shadows.

Bloomberg is very, very unlikely to win the presidency or even the nomination. “An anti-teachers’-union, anti-gun, pro-nanny state, pro-Wall Street, pro-stop-and- frisk, pro-inequality, pro-immigration, pro-surveillance, pro-Iraq War neoconservative is almost surgically designed to repel practically every American voter on some level,” The New Republic pointed out in 2016, and the same remains true today. But once his goals are clearly understood, Bloomberg, candidate for public office, might be far shrewder than at first it seemed.

And there is good reason to see a danger to our freedoms in all of this.

Late last fall, the Trump campaign announced 313,000 first-time donors had given to his re-election campaign. That same month, Sen. Bernie Sanders proclaimed he’d received 1.8 million donations that averaged a little less than $20 a pop. These are just two examples from different ends of the political spectrum, but they offer a slice of what democracy looks like, with average citizens donating a few bucks here or there to the candidate they think represents them best in the Washington.

Michael Bloomberg, the Wall Street billionaire whom D.C.’s flunky press affectionately calls “mayor of the world,” seeks to drown all of that out with his private wealth. He doesn’t like the man voters put in the White House, so he’s going to spend billions of dollars to undo it.

Look, money has always been a player in politics. People use it for good, people use it for evil, and Americans will cheer their selflessness or decry their selfishness depending on whether they agree with their politics. None of it changes that Bloomberg is skirting the campaign finance laws designed to keep the American republic answerable to her citizens — that, and he isn’t really running for president.