Eleven weeks ago, this column outlined Mike Bloomberg’s very plausible path to the Democratic nomination, “What in The World Is Michael Bloomberg Up To?” Now, it seems, everyone is similarly focused, and the very predictable refrain is heard over and over again. “Bloomberg is trying to buy the election.” Well, please, so is everyone else.
It takes money; a lot of it to run a presidential campaign. Some candidates solicit money from wealthy donors, some from large numbers of more modest contributors, and some are willing to spend their own money to get their message out. The one thing they all have in common is the need to chase money in order to build a campaign organization, data analysis capability, and buy advertising time and lots of ink in print or social media. Some have to chase longer and farther than others. Some are prepared to substantially lighten their own net worth to fund their own campaigns.
Political fundraising is the horror story of political campaigning. When a candidate has the resources and the high-risk willingness to fund his or her own campaign, he or she is invariably subjected to in-coming from those who have to grovel for support. Don’t be fooled. They all have to buy what it takes to win. They either spend other people’s money or their own. What counts is the vision, foresight, and capability of the candidate, not the wherewithal he or she has to self-fund their message. Bloomberg will be (and is being) slammed for any missteps he has made, under-performing policies he has embraced, every potty-mouth utterance he has made, employee non-disclosure agreement he has negotiated, and every other self-inflicted scar he may have accumulated since first entering the political arena.
Eighteen years ago, he entered the rough and tumble world of politics, becoming the 108th Mayor of New York City. While Mayor he managed some serious stumbles such as Search and Frisk and some cost overruns, and some programs that fell short of goals, but, by and large, he proved himself to be a very effective Mayor and an astute politician.
By any measure, he left office with a sounder and safer city than he found upon assuming office. Notwithstanding his continuation of the widely discredited Search and Frisk program, homicide rates dropped by 65%, shootings by 55%, and the city’s overall crime rate was reduced by 32 % during his years in office according to press reports. While he fought battles over school administration, test scores did improve and graduation rates did rise. New schools were opened and Bloomberg dramatically expanded school choice in the city. He was very much a hands-on mayor and, we think, most objective observers give him high marks for managing one of the most unmanageable cities in the country.
He had his problems, especially with efforts to rebuild neighborhoods severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The city’s bureaucratic structure performed poorly in that emergency and rebuilding seriously lagged behind an urgent need. His years as the city’s mayor had its ups and downs, but given the crushing demands of the job, few discount his effectiveness as the three-term mayor of New York City. Bloomberg followed Rudy Giuliani as Mayor of New York, and Giuliani had distinguished himself as an effect Mayor as well. New York was well-governed under Giuliani and it was made safer too. But it was Bloomberg who had to govern through the financial extrema in which New York found itself following the 9/11 attacks, and he did so admirably.
Michael Bloomberg is the quintessential self-made man. He did not start out with inherited largess. Many high-profile public figures (we’re not naming names) are the proverbial loquacious boors who were born on third base and think they hit a triple. Not Michael Bloomberg. He became one of the richest men in the world the old fashion way. He earned it. He conceived of, and developed, financial data analysis information systems and hardware and made his products available to business, financial management, and media organizations the world over. He provided real, usable value-adding tools to his customers, proved himself to be a problem solver and an astute manager. And he did it without bankrupting any of his enterprises or shafting any of his suppliers.
He is also an uncommonly generous man. Bloomberg Philanthropies distributes most of the considerable profits from Bloomberg’s business to worthy causes throughout the United States and abroad. In 2018, he contributed through his company’s earnings $767 million dollars to worthy causes in 510 cities in 129 different countries. He gives away most of what he earns. So, his decision to self-finance his run for the presidency is not something to be scorned.
Actually, that is what the current President of the United States said he was going to do. The difference is Mike Bloomberg is really doing it because he can really afford to do it.