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2020 Election

Bloomberg to fund sizable campaign effort through November even if he loses Democratic nomination

Exclusive: The former New York City mayor plans to continue paying hundreds of staffers and funding his digital operation to defeat Trump even if he's not the nominee.
Image: Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg speaks during an event at Eastern Market in Detroit, Mich. on Dec. 21, 2019.Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s massive campaign apparatus and an army of some 500 staffers will march on through the general election in November even if he loses the Democratic nomination, campaign officials tell NBC News, shifting their efforts toward working to elect whomever the party selects to face President Donald Trump.

Bloomberg’s vast tech operation will also be redirected to help the eventual nominee, as Democrats struggle to compete with the vaunted digital operation built by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. Hawkfish, a digital company started by Bloomberg that’s carrying out his $100 million online ad campaign, will be retained through Election Day to help defeat Trump, the officials said.

Awaiting the eventual nominee would be a shadow field operation across the country that’s currently unparalleled in size by any of the other candidates in the presidential race. The roughly 500 staff members Bloomberg has committed to paying through November include those in battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as in Arizona.

To be clear, Bloomberg remains in the race to win it. Most recent national polls have shown him in fifth place among Democratic primary voters or in close competition with Pete Buttigieg for fourth place, just six weeks after Bloomberg entered the race. His primary strategy relies on amassing delegates in states that vote later in the primary calendar, after the early states where his competitors are focusing the vast majority of their resources.

“Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president,” said Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager. “He is dedicated to getting Trump out of the White House.”

The unusual move illustrates how Bloomberg, who made a late entrance into the race in November, is working to cast himself as a team player for Democrats who are more interested in seeing Trump defeated than his White House ambitions. Since Bloomberg entered, his campaign has worked to allay concerns that he could be a spoiler in the race by helping tip the nomination toward a less electable candidate.

It also means that whoever wins the Democratic nomination may have resources at the ready in the most critical states by the time the general election kicks off. That could potentially reduce the incumbent advantage enjoyed by Trump, who faces no serious primary challenge and whose re-election campaign is already focused squarely on the general election.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another 2020 candidate, said she'd be glad to have the extra help from Bloomberg's operation if she wins the nomination.

"We are always eager to take in more staff," Klobuchar said on MSNBC. "That is great — especially if he pays for them!"

The digital operation through Hawkfish could also offer an edge, drawing on Bloomberg’s extensive data and analytics capabilities. Bloomberg used a data-driven approach as mayor, and his namesake company, Bloomberg LP, pioneered data “terminals” for financial analytics.

If another Democrat wins the nomination, the Bloomberg-funded staffers won’t work directly for the nominee, which would constitute an in-kind contribution by Bloomberg to the campaign that would exceed federal contribution limits. Rather, those staffers would be paid by an independent funding vehicle supported by Bloomberg, officials said.

By law, those staffers and Hawkfish would not be able to coordinate their activities with the nominee’s campaign. The arrangement would likely be similar to how super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions, can spend limitless sums working to defeat or elect candidates as long as they act independently.

In states where the Democratic nominee will be competing in the fall, the Bloomberg staffers could play a critical role driving up Democratic turnout, in line with the former mayor’s pledge to spend more than $15 million this election on get-out-the-vote efforts. They could also organize their own events, ad campaigns and other organizing tactics in support of the nominee, so long as it’s not coordinated with the campaign.

Bloomberg already has a super PAC, Independence USA PAC, that could be used to facilitate the effort. In 2018, Bloomberg spent more than $110 million through that PAC to help elect Democratic candidates for the House, according to the PAC. The vast majority of those candidates won their races.

Since entering the race in November, Bloomberg has rapidly hired more than 800 staffers, including 500 field organizers and staff in more than 30 states and another 300 staffers in his campaign’s New York headquarters. He’s already unleashed more than $100 million on advertising and is on track to have a dozen offices in Ohio, nine in Michigan and 17 in Florida, his campaign has said.

Josh Lederman reported from Washington, Stephanie Ruhle from New York.