Election 2020

Bloomberg, Steyer Showing Money Can't Buy Elections After Failed $200 Million Ad Blitz

The two Democratic billionaires have spent a combined $200 million on campaign ads already. That doesn't mean much to them, but the opportunity costs are staggering.

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With an unprecedented advertising spending binge, billionaire presidential wannabees Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer have launched themselves all the way to….the middle tier of the Democratic primary field.

The two candidates have spent a combined $200 million on television ads—with Bloomberg accounting for about $120 million of that total since he jumped into the race less than a month ago. No other candidate in the field has spent more than $18 million on ads so far, Politico reports. Bloomberg spent more than that in the first week after entering the race in late November.

Despite the advertising blitz, Bloomberg and Steyer are almost certainly wasting their money chasing political power. While it is foolish to rule out any electoral outcome in a world where Donald Trump is president, voters have responded to both Democratic billionaires with a resounding meh, and there seems to be little reason to think that will change next year, no matter how much money the two candidates pour into the race.

There are two lessons here. First, Bloomberg and Steyer seem to be on an inadvertent crusade to prove that progressive fears about the influence of money in politics are largely unfounded.

Secondly, the two billionaire candidates are providing a real-world lesson about opportunity costs by setting fire to their huge campaign war chests. They've got the means to change the world, but getting involved in politics isn't the best way to do it.

Bloomberg has been spending close to $30 million per week on TV ads since jumping into the race in late November, but all that cash hasn't done much to move the needle. He's now running a distant fifth in the Real Clear Politics (RCP) polling average with about 5 percent, well behind more thrifty candidates. He's unlikely to qualify for the next debate, scheduled for January 14 in Iowa, because Democratic National Committee rules require candidates to qualify via polling (Bloomberg has done enough on that metric) and by accumulating at least 225,000 individual donors.

In some ways, Bloomberg's self-financed, ad-heavy campaign may not care about debates. Indeed, he might be better off saturating the airwaves without having to face any of his challengers in the flesh, where he'd likely be subjected to criticism over his wealth, his record of supporting "stop-and-frisk" policing in New York City, and more. In ads, no one else gets to speak.

Steyer has done marginally better—he's qualified for the past three debates, but seems unlikely to make next month's contest in Iowa. He's polling below 1.5 percent in the RCP average, and doesn't have great numbers in any of the early primary states—not even in his home state of California.

Given how Bloomberg and Steyer have struggled to gain traction despite their willingness to set fire to their respective campaign war chests, it's a bit ironic to hear some of their Democratic primary opponents repeatedly bemoaning the influence of money in politics. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg got into a kerfluffle at the last debate over whose campaign was more corrupted by the influence of deep-pocketed donors, and the consensus view in the Democratic primary field is that Congress ought to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the court ruled that campaign contribution limits for political action committees (PACs) placed unconstitutional limitations on free speech.

Yes, it's certainly true that money can buy access and influence in the political process. But when it comes to campaigns, money is only as good as the results it can produce. Joe Biden has well-documented fundraising issues, but continues to be the Democrats' perceived front-runner. Bloomberg is spending more each week than Buttigieg has spent since his campaign launched, but "Mayor Pete" is the odds-on favorite to win the first primary contest in Iowa.

In short, the idea that "billionaires can buy elections," as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has put it, is being debunked right before our eyes. Again.

And if they can't buy the election, couldn't these guys do more by not running for president?

Take Steyer, for example. His entire campaign is built around a single issue. "I'm the only one on this stage who said climate is my number-one priority," Steyer said at the last debate. He says that climate change is America's biggest challenge, but "also our greatest opportunity to create millions of good-paying union jobs across the country."

But you don't need to be president to create jobs—not even union ones. You do need capital, and Steyer clearly has plenty of that.

Indeed, elsewhere during the same debate, Steyer bragged about his history of financing exactly the types of things he says he wants to do as president. "I've been working on this for more than a decade. I've taken on oil companies and beaten them on environmental laws. I've pushed clean energy across this country. I've prevented pipelines and I've prevented fossil fuel plants," he said.

As president, Steyer would certainly have more power to block pipeline projects and stop power plants from being built. But solving climate change will require more than reducing Americans' access to energy. It will require big ideas and innovative thinking: carbon capture, improved batteries, drought-resistant crops, cheaper desalination, more energy-efficient cooling methods, and better construction practices, among other things. Those ideas and products will almost certainly be developed in the private sector by individuals trying to make a buck.

Unlike most of us, Steyer is in a position to identify and support the companies most likely to make a real difference in reducing the effects of climate change or helping people to cope with them. Instead, he's dropped $83 million (and counting) in order to get his plaid tie into a few primary debates that few voters watched and even fewer will remember.

Bloomberg's pet causes are more varied, and libertarians are probably happy to see him blowing his money on an election instead of putting it towards another gun control effort. But the same questions about opportunity cost exist with his candidacy. Could a $100 million campaign to inform Americans about healthy eating do as much good as the Big Gulp ban President Bloomberg would likely try to sign? Probably, and it wouldn't require him running roughshod over the Constitution.

Bloomberg, Steyer, and everyone else has the right to spend their money however they choose, of course, and all those advertising dollars are at least supporting local and national television stations and helping to indirectly employ producers, anchors, and reporters. Maybe some of those resources will be used to report on Bloomberg, since his own media organization is prohibited from doing so.

It's also worth noting that the post-Citizens United world that Democrats who actually stand a chance of being elected president want to build would be a place where self-funding billionaire candidates would enjoy a relatively easier path to electoral success. By trying to reduce everyone else's ability to speak, Democrats would let the future Bloombergs and Steyers dominate the airwaves even more than they do now. And those guys could use all the help they can get, it seems.

NEXT: Missouri Cops Used Federal Loophole To Seize $2.6 Million From Drivers Who They Never Charged With Crimes

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  1. Despite what various grifter consultants claim, to win an election you actually have to have a message and a reason for people to vote for you. Magic commercials don’t give you that.

    1. It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to win a Democratic nomination as a fabulously wealthy straight white man. Even if either of them had a solid message, they don’t have enough grievance points for their party to take them seriously.

      Why these guys are trying to win over a group of people who legitimately wish they didn’t exist at all is baffling to me, but it’s not my money so what do I care.

      1. They think that the rules don’t apply to them. That because they are a loyal party member, the knock will never come on their door. The inability to understand that they will some day be declared an enemy by the party is one of the more remarkable things about leftists.

        1. //The inability to understand that they will some day be declared an enemy by the party is one of the more remarkable things about leftists.//

          Well said, sir.

      2. Don’t forget, Twitter isn’t reality. The actual voters seem to want a moderate, boring, experienced candidate (see how Biden is still leading the polls by being one of the only moderates in the race despite the revelation of rampant corruption, and the second place is normally Warren, who is equally boring).

        To compare, Harris was soundly rejected by polls despite her “grievance points” as you put it.

        1. Grievance points aren’t the only criteria, Harris learned you can’t win on them alone, but they’re still important.

          This is why Warren tried so hard with the Native American thing, she understands who she’s dealing with. 1 grievance point for having a vagina might not be enough, so she tried to get a 2nd point for being a minority.

          Creepy Uncle Joe gets a pass from the party because he spent 8 years as Obama’s VP, and they view him as being important to Obama winning those elections. To the extent he’s viable to the party it’s because it’s his turn after his loyal service.

          This is commentary about the Democratic political machinery, not necessarily how the general public feels.

      3. Democrat politicians believe all democratic voters to be useful idiots. They are largely right.

        1. “Useful” is awfully generous, isn’t it?

          1. They are useful at the polling place, and when they need to run opinion surveys.

      4. Seems like mostly white men left in the Dem primary though. Your analysis is a conclusion in search of facts.

        1. Aren’t they all cunts?

    2. Bloomberg has been spending close to $30 million per week

      Must be nice. That’d buy a lot of vintage European sports/grand touing/race cars.

      1. You won’t be able to drive them in 11.5 years. Might as well run for president.

  2. Can’t buy me love either.

  3. “Probably, and it wouldn’t require him running roughshod over the Constitution.”

    But that’s the whole point!

  4. Bloomberg bought his third term in NYC, no? OK Bloomer, keep your powder dry.
    There are only 538 members of the electoral college. A million a pop won’t put a dent in your piggy bank, best 270 million you will have ever spent.

    1. At least it wouldn’t be Russia buying the election.

      1. Or someone buying the election with money that will be taken from your children to fund your stupid giveaway policies.

  5. Snowflakes of the World Unite. You have nothing to lose except to evaporation or maybe a snow shovel.

    1. That’s sublimation.

      1. There is nothing sublime about snowflakes.

  6. Chuck Todd aims the Fickle Firehose of Fibbery at Trump’s Christian supporters. Allah be praised.

  7. Just keep flushing the cash, you hypocritical idiots.

    1. I’d like to point out that I can waste money in far more entertaining ways than these guys are doing, and as long as they’re going to waste it I’d like a chance to prove it.

      1. Screenplay, ho!

    1. You should never water down good bourbon like that.

    2. there are worse ways to go

  8. As Koch / Reason libertarians, our primary objective is to make billionaires even richer. Drumpf’s Presidency has been disastrous by that standard, as I’ve been documenting with regular updates of Charles Koch’s stagnating fortune.

    Like all good billionaires, Bloomberg and Steyer want a Democrat to win in 2020. Even if neither ends up being the nominee, I’m sure they’ll continue to use their vast financial resources to make Putin’s Puppet a one-term President.

    #BillionairesKnowBest
    #KeepBigMoneyInPolitics

    1. Its all good…they both made their money in that bastion of free market capitalism…the finance sector…

      Just call up the Fed…they will give little Mike or woke Tom all the billions they need at zero percent…hey in fact maybe that is the real problem here….why we have so much inequity…why we have so many hedge funds and subprime meltdowns and wars….and so much student debt…free money has a bad habit of destroying societies…but hey who cares

    2. i wish i could explain to you how insane you sound. your tinfoil hat is too snug. you cannot possibly be as stupid as you sound

  9. “What do you mean money can’t buy them, ever since I bought my pills I’ve had plenty of…oh, you said *elections,* never mind.”

  10. You have to pay a stiff entrance fee to be on the ballot and on the voters’ radar. But after that entrance fee is paid, you may have to come up with some actual ideas to win over those pesky voters.

    1. In short, even after you get the money to bypass the bouncers, you may end up standing alone in the club with nobody dancing with you. Sad.

  11. That beady-eyed fuckhead Steyer is infesting everything with ads lately: YouTube, the free channels on Roku, local radio, etc.
    And every single one makes me want to punch him a little more.

    1. I’m amused by the massive number of Steyer ads on the local talk radio stations.

      I’m even more amused by the way the local hosts are clearly fighting to not respond to them.

  12. This should make Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders happy as they want the billionaires to spread their wealth. They didn’t say where they wanted it spread, but these two b’zillionaires are certainly spreading it in the world of advertisement and other campaign expenses.

    Hooray for them and their support for the little guy.

    1. You ever notice the rampant sexism in “Mr.” sorting before “Ms.”?

  13. Bloomberg’s TV commercial refers to Trump as “that guy”.

    If you can’t even name your enemy, you’ve already lost.

    1. Voldemort! Voldemort! Voldemort! is our man.

      1. Voldemort was competent- the greatest wizard of his age. He was cunning and evil. Trump is Cormac and nobody should be afraid to say his name.

  14. Trump’s appeal was always very simple. “You are people, you are Americans, you are fair and decent, and you deserve to be listened to.”

    Bloomberg, like most liberal technocrats, pushes people away with his “I have a solution for that” mentality, which inevitably translates to some form of “you’re the problem, and here’s how I can fix you.”

    Democrats just cannot get it through their heads that condescension is not a winning strategy. It is not that difficult. The era of the grand solution is over.

    1. Trump is possibly the most transparent and open President in history, and maybe even the most honest, depending on how you measure that. No other politician understands that at any level.

      The GOP is gonna flounder something fierce trying to find a replacement come 2024. The Dems are going to flounder same way, trying to find a new scapegoat. That will be perhaps the most interesting election I’ve lived through.

      1. I wouldn’t short Ron DeSantis, Doug Ducey, or Rick Scott in 2024. Any one of those guys will lock up everything that needs locking up and need one additional state. I think that with the census changes (+6, net), that could be NM, NH, NV, Minn, or any of the Trump states. There will be a flurry of old-school GOP frauds like Pompeo, Graham, Haley, Pence, etc, trying to fake the funk with the regular-guy Monty Capuletti voter-crew. I don’t think it will fly. They will have to be believable that they understand the problem with GDP-rate worship at the cost of distributional problems. Trump can’t elucidate it. But he gets it at a base level and is doing a lot of smart things to induce moving production out of China. Pence, et al, will ape him but won’t be able to sell it. They don’t believe it. Someone will hire the Jeb advisors and get smoked. But the Dems will nominate an even more extreme candidate and go full Corbynite. A turd sandwich/giant douche extraordinaire. My money is on the GOP in that one. Actually, my money is in Belize. But whatevs.

    2. Kind of like the era of big government was over in the mid nineties?

    3. Warren got ahead in the race by having a plan for everything, but then people started adding up how much all her plans would cost, and realized no one would ever vote to raise taxes that much.

    4. While it is foolish to rule out any electoral outcome in a world where Donald Trump is president..
      3 years in, and still hasn’t figured out why it happened.

  15. Message? Both of these dick heads are about control. Like all egotists they know better, and are ready to impose their vision on the rest of us.

    I suppose some masochistic types are feeling woozy listening to Bloomberg or Steyer–probably the same sorry souls who pay doms to dress up like Nazis and beat them with whips.

  16. Next you will claim the 1 million russians spent on facebook didnt cost Hillary the election.

    1. They weren’t able to WIN the election for the Hildebeast,

  17. Funny how neither of these men are stupid and both are versed in economics but neither seems to understand the concept of diminishing returns.

    1. They missed the news cycle: Billionaire Businessman Runs For President was 2016’s headline. So much self-defeating free publicity given to the man who is now our President. 2020 headline Another Billionaire… see page 23.

  18. I see a lot of Steyer ads in California. I still don’t know who he is or what he stands for. He’s trying to come across as down to Earth. Maybe that works in Iowa.

    1. Steyer made a billion largely off of heavy fossil fuel industries then decided to destroy the industry when he “retired.” Now he shorts stocks after asking liberal politician friends to open investigations into the shorted corporations.

    2. He’s been assaulting every possible outlet here in Iowa with ads, and I think he’s in, I don’t know, 7th place, so no, his schtick doesn’t play here either.

  19. Bloomberg is worth 50 billion? If so, then spending 30 million a week is actually being cheap and uncommitted. If he generates a 1% return a year, that’s 500,000,000 dollars. If he gets a bond return he’s generating 1.5 billion a year+. He should be spending 300 million a week if he truly wants to be president. He isn’t doing debates or fundraising. He’s a midget. And a giant douche. If he’s going to win, he’s going to have to spend 10x what anyone has ever spent. He can totally afford it. It would be epic to see a Bloomberg ad on every channel, every half an hour, for like 3 months straight, in every state. Of course, he’d then have to deal with not winning and having no excuse to rationalize nobody liking him. Do that instead of chintzing out and tweeting your open office concept. The reason people won’t vote for him in numbers is because they, rightly, know he’s a pussy. Midget pussies don’t win. Ask Dukakis. Spend 2 billion on the primary if you want to be president, lil’ guy. It’s chump change for you.

    1. I hate to think of the bullshit vendors in the mainstream media growing fat off his largesse.

      They would probably get more bang for the buck if they paid a few thousand underemployed, literate college grads to take to social media with their talking points.

      1. Don’t give them any ideas.

    2. There’s no doubt his business holdings provide him with lots of income, but I don’t think it makes sense to use a 1% return example (or bond example) for this pre-tax cash flow. Like most billionaire business owners, he is likely reinvesting much of his profits back in to his business. His personal investment portfolio(s) of marketable securities may well be very valuable, but again, I’m pretty sure he’s not getting $500 million in dividends and interest each year. Bloomberg might be borrowing against his holdings (at favorable rates), selling some assets that are easily liquidated, and adding in cash from dividends and interest. He is massively wealthy – but his personal overhead expenses are ridiculously high too. His main business is Bloomberg L.P. – and it’s a private company. It’s not like he can sell his company stock on the NYSE when he needs cash.

  20. It would be epic to see a Bloomberg ad on every channel, every half an hour, for like 3 months straight, in every state.

    Familiarity breeds contempt.

    Unless of course one has outstanding charisma, which Bloomie don’t.

  21. Trump was outspent by Hilary 2-1 and 4-1 in PAC money.
    Social media may be the great equalizer.

    1. that and the fact that hillary is genuinely unliked. obama pushed her shit and trump did too. people just don’t like her. i know i think she’s as crooked as a dogs back leg. she’s so crooked she’s round.

  22. The only thing funnier than watching Bloomturd blow his hundreds of millions is hearing the supposedly highly rational, wealthy, and educated progs I know say they think he will actually be the next POTUS. Goes to show you that wealth and education do NOT equal intelligence

  23. I would love for Bloomberg to be the Dem candidate.

    I want to walk up to the typical obese Proglodyte carrying a campaign sign, and mention “He’s the guy who tried to ban Big Gulps, because he says you’re too fat.”

    1. Nah. Can’t stomach the gun-control. In California, if one is registered to vote as no party preference, one can vote in the Democratic primary (or the Libertarian or American Independent). I’m thinking of temporarily switching my voter registration just so I can vote against Bloomberg.

  24. The Nixon Anti-Libertarian law passed the day the LP filed its papers is still robbing your income to shovel money to fake news media and entrenched looter party campaigns. The sole purpose of such extortion and bribery is to keep the public from reading our platform and casting those law-changing spoiler votes.

  25. Anyone who doesn’t think money buy influence in politics is a fool. USA continues to have the best govt money can buy!

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  27. If the richest candidate always won, we would have had H. Ross Preot, Steve Forbes and John Kerry as POTUS.

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