The Slatest

How Much of Michael Bloomberg’s $100 Million Gift to Democrats Is About 2018, and How Much Is About 2020?

Michael Bloomberg arrives for a morning session of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, on July 11, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Michael Bloomberg has pledged a total of $100 million to help Democrats in the midterms. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Make that an even $100 million. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised Tuesday to give Senate Democrats $20 million toward their bid to retake the upper chamber this fall. The pledge comes a little more than three months after Bloomberg unveiled his plan to spend $80 million to help House Democrats in their quest to take back the lower chamber.

Bloomberg was elected mayor twice as a Republican and once as an independent, and his donation track record has traditionally skewed bipartisan. In the age of Trump, though, the multibillionaire has shifted his allegiance left in hopes that Democrats can break GOP control of Washington and act as a check on President Trump. Not unrelatedly, Bloomberg’s liberal largesse is also happening as he’s eyeing a run for the White House in 2020 as, yep, a Democrat.

“Mike was extraordinarily disappointed in the Republican leadership in the Senate and feels increasingly passionate about changing it,” one of his advisers, Kevin Sheekey, told the Washington Post, in reference to how the Senate majority has handled Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. “And he’s already enthusiastic about the impact he’s having on House races and increasingly confident that he can contribute to a Democratic takeover.”

Bloomberg will reportedly give the cash in one lump sum to the Senate Democrats via their main super PAC, the Senate Majority PAC, which will then get to pick and choose where to spend it. That’s a departure from Bloomberg’s House strategy, which involves multiple outside groups and allows him to retain considerable control over which candidates get his money and which don’t. (Given the opaqueness of our campaign finance laws, it’s tough to tell with certainty where each of his dollars has gone, but Bloomberg has made no secret that he’s prioritizing center-left moderates running in suburban congressional districts, while avoiding proud progressives, particularly ones calling for Trump’s impeachment.)

Thanks to the quirks of the electoral calendar, Senate Democrats are being forced to play more defense than offense this year, even as they are desperate to pick up the two seats they need to end Republican control of the upper chamber. While Bloomberg (estimated net worth: about $50 billion) can spare $20 million, the donation is massive pretty much any other way you cut it. It’s more than a fifth of the $96 million the Senate Majority PAC managed to raise from the start of this cycle through the end of August, the most recent federal filing deadline, and more than two-thirds of the $29 million the Chuck Schumer–aligned group had on hand to start last month. Senate Democrats will remain underdogs, but $20 million will go a long way over the final month of the midterms.

So how much of this is about Bloomberg’s stated goal of restoring checks and balances to Washington and how much of it is about his dream of winning the White House? Opinions will vary. The line between altruism and selfishness is blurry. There are now 100 million reasons to believe Bloomberg really does care about the outcome of the midterms, but the fact that his team has made sure to hype each announcement suggests there are also 100 million reasons to believe Bloomberg is hoping his donations could pay political dividends come 2020.

As I’ve written before, Bloomberg would be an incredibly awkward fit for a Democratic nominating contest. He’d likely be primary enemy No. 1 for progressives due to his ties to Wall Street, his continued defense of his administration’s aggressive policing of men of color, and his current unwillingness or inability to speak the language of #MeToo. But if he does have a path—a New York City skyscraper–size if—it might look something like this: He uses his wealth to make an early splash in a crowded field and then continues to spend big to keep his campaign afloat until he’s the only moderate left in a race full of progressives.

Yes, billionaire is pretty much a dirty word in Democratic circles, where the goal is to address economic inequality and remove big money from politics. Using your personal fortune as a political weapon is not a good look on the left. But it won’t look quite as bad to moderates if Bloomberg can tell them that he didn’t wait until he was running to use his wealth to help their party. And it would look a bit more virtuous still if he can say his cash helped Democrats retake both chambers of Congress.