He now hopes that much of the same operation will be run through the state and national Democratic Party, which would allow for it to directly coordinate with the Democratic nominee, whom he expects to be former vice president Joe Biden. An independent expenditure campaign is barred from such coordination.
“While we considered creating our own independent entity to support the nominee and hold the President accountable, this race is too important to have many competing groups with good intentions but that are not coordinated and united in strategy and execution,” Bloomberg’s campaign wrote in a memo Friday to Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez.
“Since Mike suspended his campaign and endorsed Joe Biden, the former vice president now controls the race. It is critically important that we all do everything we can to support our eventual nominee and scale the Democratic Party’s general election efforts.”
To accomplish the goal, Bloomberg will transfer cash remaining in his presidential campaign account, which he donated, to the Democratic National Committee’s Battleground Build-Up 2020 effort for use in the general election. The money will allow the party to hire hundreds of additional organizers, party officials say. Bloomberg also will transfer the long-term leases he has signed on some offices in some swing states to state Democratic parties.
Bloomberg’s advisers plan to work with the DNC on shifting staff from his payroll to the party. All personnel would have to reapply for their jobs, and those hired by the party will be paid at DNC salary levels, according to a party official. Bloomberg was previously paying $6,000 a month for organizers, well above the market rates offered for other campaigns.
“Our country is in crisis, and a change in presidential leadership is more important now than ever to protect our families, our communities and our economy,” Perez said in a statement. “With this transfer from the Bloomberg campaign, Mayor Bloomberg and his team are making good on their commitment to beating Donald Trump.”
But the transition will be disruptive for hundreds of Bloomberg organizers in swing states. They were previously told their jobs would continue through the general election, but they now find themselves facing the prospect of unemployment amid an economic crisis brought about by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers received an email Friday saying their jobs would end that day, though they will continue to receive pay through April 7 and health benefits through April 30.
“As a token of our appreciation, we are offering you the opportunity to keep your laptop and iPhone,” said one email from the Bloomberg campaign to organizers. The email also noted that the value of the devices, $1,400 or $1,700, depending on the laptop, will be counted as taxable income.
Under normal circumstances, federal rules allow individuals to give a maximum of $355,000 per year to the DNC. The party has set up a Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with state parties, that allows wealthy individuals to give $865,000 in one year. Bloomberg has already donated the maximum allowed to this account.
But the new shift of resources means he is able to give more than 20 times the maximum a donor can give to the national party in one year, because of provisions that allow federal candidates to donate unlimited amounts of leftover money to national and state parties as they wind down their campaigns. This has effectively given Bloomberg a super-donor status because he self-funded his White House bid.
Campaign finance experts said such a mass transfer of personal money was uncharted territory.
“This has never, to my knowledge, been an issue before, because anybody other than somebody worth multiple billions would want their money back even if they self-funded,” said Charlie Spies, a campaign finance lawyer who served as counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
If someone mounted a self-funded bid solely to evade the individual contribution limit and donate leftover campaign funds to the party, that would be considered a straw donation scheme, experts said.
But Bloomberg is shuttering a real campaign effort, and his decisions point to a loophole in the federal law that wealthy self-funded candidates can exploit, experts said.
“I think it’d be absolutely wrong to suggest that it’s a ploy to get around the limits. . . . But it does suggest you could do that,” said Beth Kingsley, a campaign finance lawyer at Harmon, Curran, Spielberg and Eisenberg. “It does seem that there ought to be limits the same way there’s an individual [contribution] limit.”
The Federal Election Commission does not have a voting quorum currently and cannot conduct official business, such as providing guidance on this matter.
Although Bloomberg’s plans to establish a new independent expenditure campaign have been put on hold, his advisers continue to look at possible vehicles for a media campaign to support the Democratic nominee later this year. A super PAC he used in 2018 to support House candidates, Independence USA, still exists, and he still has the capability to form a new group.
Since leaving the race earlier this month, Bloomberg has announced a broad range of donations to the larger Democratic cause, including $2 million for black voter registration and $2 million to Swing Left, which is working to elect Democrats to Republican-held seats in 2020 up and down the ballot in 12 states.
During his brief campaign, Bloomberg spent $225 million on television ads and $46.9 million on anti-Trump digital ads, according to the campaign’s own accounting. He spent more than $510 million on his campaign before dropping out of the race, according to public records.
He has previously committed at least $100 million to anti-Trump digital advertising in swing states through November, along with at least $15 million more to expand voter registration and protect voter access across the country.