WASHINGTON, D. C.: Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are testing an unproven theory in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination: that their vast personal wealth can buy the trophy.
Not since Texas businessman Ross Perot spent $63.5 million in 1992 (more than $100 million in today’s dollars) on his run for president as an independent have candidates for the White House banked so much on their massive fortunes alone on delivering results. Donald Trump spent about $65 million of his own money in 2016. Bloomberg has spent more than three times that amount in a little over two months.
Bloomberg, who founded a financial data and media company and served three terms as New York mayor, and Steyer, a California businessman, have saturated key primary states with hundreds of millions in TV and social media advertising.
They’ve also recruited top staff with above-market salaries while offering political figures and groups generous contributions as they work to build networks of support. To the dismay of many in the party, it might work.
“People underestimate the billionaires at their own peril,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive Democratic strategist in New York. “Just because you have all the money in the world doesn’t mean you will win the nomination and become president. But it’s a hell of a head start.”
Democrats have long grappled with the sway the wealthy hold over politics, an issue that took on added gravity after the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United decision cleared the way for the flood of cash now coursing through the political system.
The party’s progressive wing sought to make the 2020 contest a referendum on the taint of big money in politics. They championed small online donations from the grassroots base as the purest indicator of voter enthusiasm.