Over the weekend, just before officially announcing his bid for the U.S. presidency, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the single biggest one-week ad buy for a presidential campaign in U.S. history and it’s far from the first time the multi-billionaire has spent big in electoral politics. Throughout his political career, Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on his own campaigns for mayor as well as those of Republicans and Democrats alike in federal elections.
Bloomberg is worth more than $54 billion and established himself as a big spender early on in his political career. In 2001, when he first ran for Mayor of New York, he spent $74 million to secure his victory. Bloomberg served as mayor for three consecutive terms and with each campaign, his campaign spending increased substantially. During his 2005 re-election bid, Bloomberg spent $85 million followed by $109 million for his 2009 campaign.
“His spending, especially the self-funding aspect puts the dollar amount much higher and enables him to outspend his opponents,” Sarah Rekhow, a political science professor at Michigan State University, told The Globe Post, adding the caveat that campaign spending in New York City is normally high anyway.
Rekhow said Bloomberg’s third mayoral campaign, in particular, was controversial because he ended term limits just one year before seeking reelection. Rekhow also noted Bloomberg’s mayoral campaigns were unique because of how he “shored up” his political support through philanthropy.
“While he was Mayor of New York City, the Carnegie Corporation of Philanthropy cooperated with him,” Rekhow said. “He was able to provide his own money through Carnegie, which was then distributed strategically to community organizations in New York City.”
Bloomberg didn’t lose his penchant for big campaign spending after he left public office, contributing to local campaigns for school boards and federal congressional campaigns in the years that followed. In 2013, he spent $1 million in support of a slate of candidates for the Los Angeles School board.
“When he was mayor in New York, he was highly supportive of charter schools and other aspects of what people tend to characterize as the education reform agenda,” Rekhow said. “He nationally supports candidates running for school board that have aligned with that.”
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Bloomberg contributed more than $162 million on federal elections between 2010 and 2018. In 2010, Bloomberg spent roughly $1.7 million in 2010 and spent increasingly large amounts with each successive election before spending over $95 million during the 2018 midterms.
“That’s pretty significant and that positions him well for right now because he obviously supported some marginal candidates who in theory could be grateful for the help,” Robin Kolodny, a political science professor at Temple University told The Globe Post. “There are going to be a fair number of politicians that while they may not rush to support him they’re certainly not going to condemn him either.”
While Bloomberg’s 2018 campaign spending was almost entirely on behalf of Democrats, his contributions in prior elections were distributed among both Republicans and Democrats. In 2016, Bloomberg spent nearly $12 million on behalf of Pat Toomey, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania – just one example of many in which Bloomberg used his fortune to boost Republican congressional campaigns.
‘For years I’ve been using my resources for things that matter to me.’ — Here’s how Mike Bloomberg responded to attacks from other 2020 candidates that he’s trying to buy his way into the election pic.twitter.com/VBUrXkwrIc
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 25, 2019
Prior to Bloomberg’s record-breaking ad buy for his presidential campaign totaling around $34 million, the most recent comparable spending spree came from the 2012 Obama campaign, which spent nearly $25 million dollars during the final week before the election. It’s an unparalleled show of financial force in a volatile and unpredictable primary.
Bloomberg has also opted to fully self finance his presidential campaign, essentially disqualifying himself from participation in any of the Democratic Primary debates, while skipping early states like Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on states that will vote later in the primary calendar.
“He’s essentially implying that his campaign will not depend on raising other people’s money,” Rekhow said. “That’s sort of what Trump claimed at various points… ‘I can’t be bought. I’m already rich’ type of thing, but the thing with Bloomberg is he is in a financial position to actually achieve that and do what he says he would do.”
Bloomberg isn’t limiting his 2020 spending to his presidential campaign either. The former mayor has also committed to spending $15-$20 million on a voter registration drive as well as an additional $100 million for anti-Trump online ads.