Bribery is at the heart of Bloomberg's political career
Make no mistake: Michael Bloomberg is buying off opposition with money, usually in the form of charitable (and therefore tax-deductible) or political contributions to voices that otherwise would oppose him. It's totally legal, but also totally corrupt, for it corrupts the words and actions of important political figures.
Bloomberg already practiced the use of money to win support and quell visible opposition during his three terms as mayor of New York City. Don't take my word for it; read what Edward-Isaac Dovere reported for The Atlantic, a progressive publication that itself is controlled and underwritten by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs and heir to a vast fortune herself.
Bloomberg spent extensively as mayor of New York. He gave massive sums to nonprofit organizations and arts groups. He contributed enormous amounts in political donations out of his personal bank account. (Most politicians make political donations out of their campaign accounts or PACs.) He funded nonprofit organizations that boosted his policy agenda. When church groups or community organizations threatened to get noisy in opposition to him or his programs, he wrote checks that tended to quiet them down. (Top Democrats were known to tease black ministers who got only $25,000 for their churches, when peers who'd held out longer received $50,000 — the deal was that these ministers didn't have to support him, but if they wanted the checks to keep coming, they needed to stay neutral.) His company, Bloomberg LP, made many corporate contributions that lined up with his political interests. The money kept coming and coming and coming and coming. It broke logjams, and overcame institutional resistance. His money allowed him to drown out the opposition — and often made potential rivals hold their tongue. The timely and balanced budgets Bloomberg touted each year in PowerPoint presentations were enabled in part by spending cuts to groups that were then made whole again by the most transparent of anonymous donations. The money he spent led to fewer protests, and deals that were easier to make.
I have no information on any financial ties between Bloomberg and his charities and the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, but it certainly is notable that we are not seeing the loudmouth, self-ordained minister leading protests over the candidacy of a man who imposed stop & frisk on New York City. My guess is that "top Democrats" are not teasing him about being bought off too cheaply, the way the silence of some other prominent clergymen allegedly was purchased.
Randi Weingarten is one of the most powerful members of the Democrats' power base, and she is not hostile to Bloomberg, but she unburdened herself to Dovere:
"I agree with him," Randi Weingarten, the head of the national teachers' union who regularly tangled with Mayor Bloomberg when she led its New York City chapter, told me. "I don't think he can be bought. But that misunderstands the nature of politics and the importance of money in politics."
When there were fights over contracts and other policies, Weingarten remembers, old allies in church and civic groups suddenly fell "silent because of the influence the mayor had. We found out later that some of them were getting donations from him," she said. "You would notice it because people would whisper to us all the time about it."
People in the Democrat sphere who have been on the losing end of tussles with Bloomberg are willing to use the c-word (corruption):
People I spoke with recently told me that Eddy Castell, the campaign manager for the Democratic nominee against Bloomberg in 2009, used to say, "The way Bloomberg threw money around, it was more corrupting to the political process than any other elected official." (When I asked Castell about this, he declined to comment.)
For most of Bloomberg's 12 years as mayor, much of his giving to arts and civic groups would be routed through an organization called the Carnegie Corporation of New York, after being asked to help plug a gap in donations by its president, Vartan Gregorian. Officially, this money was given anonymously—but the foundation was in such close contact with city hall about which groups received the checks that government staff would reach out to reporters to flag the list of anonymous donations as soon as it was released by Carnegie. During his first nine years in office, Carnegie gave out $200 million in Bloomberg money.
"Whenever I saw the word anonymous, I knew" where the money had really come from, says Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president who was a member of the city council during the Bloomberg years.
Bloomberg's influence could be almost invisible, with him steering business to companies and firms connected to allies in ways that were whispered about but never fully traced or proved.
This is a description of a true oligarch, someone who uses vast amounts of money to win power.
Further evidence of Bloomberg's corrupting use of money is found in this 17-entry Twitter thread by Blake Zeff. As with Dovere, read the whole thing, but here are three pungent examples:
In 2018, Mike spent $110 million to boost 24 candidates now in Congress. Turns out, giving people $2 million can be the start of a beautiful friendship. Then there are mayors: Want a grant from Bloomberg for new programs in your city...? 4/17 https://t.co/5tRX3Fbqmu— Blake Zeff (@blakezeff) February 13, 2020
You may also see “community groups” back Mike's candidacy. As mayor, non-profits supported him when he reversed a voter referendum on term limits & made a backroom deal to help himself get a 3rd term. How’d that happen, you ask? He applied himself.👇 5/17 https://t.co/oISYWjWap4— Blake Zeff (@blakezeff) February 13, 2020
You may also see fewer critics bash Mike's candidacy than you’d expect. After changing parties from GOP to Independent in 2007 as mayor, the local GOP rarely attacked anything he did. How'd he pull that off? I’ll give you a million guesses... 6/17 https://t.co/oJBrMcerqT— Blake Zeff (@blakezeff) February 13, 2020
The word "oligarch" is perfectly appropriate for Bloomberg and his manipulation of the political process with his personal fortune. I am certain that with the advice of the best lawyers that money can buy, he is staying on the right side of the law. But is what he is accomplishing really so different from what the "oligarchs" of Ukraine and Russia accomplish? It's grabbing control of the apparatus of the state with money is the name of the strategy, only the tactics differ.
But can Bloomberg accomplish at a national level what he already pulled off as mayor of New York?
Dovere estimates that he spent $200 million in NYC via the Carnegie Corporation. Let's add $100 million to cover other money spent bribing (or persuading, if you prefer the term) opinion leaders and groups to either support or not visibly oppose him, and then scale up from a population of 8 million to a population of 330 million. The total Bloomberg would have to spend nationally is a "mere" $10.2 billion, roughly a sixth of his fortune. So far, he's mentioned only $2 billion, but that is spending on his campaign. H can spend $12 billion easily and still be worth nearly $50 billion, which is more than enough to assure a fully funded retirement.
The gravitational pull of the sums Bloomberg commands is more than enough to utterly corrupt the party to which he currently directs (most of) his money. The consequences could either be the installation of an actual, explicit oligarch in power, or it could be the destruction of a party so visibly willing to sell its soul for filthy lucre.
Caricature by Donkey Hotey.