Election 2020

Do FEC Records Prove Michael Bloomberg Bought His Way onto the Democrats' Debate Stage?

Michael Bloomberg wants to become the 46th president of the United States. Source: Boss Tweed / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee announced a major change of their debate requirements for the upcoming primary debate February 19 debate in Las Vegas, removing the individual donor threshold, thus opening the door for billionaire Michael Bloomberg to participate. Because Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign, it was impossible for him to meet the 225,000 individual donor threshold to participate in the debates.

The donor threshold was controversial when it was first rolled out last year, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy now that it is gone. Current and former candidates were, in fact,  outraged at the news because the DNC refused prior requests to change the rules to ensure more diversity on stage.

“The DNC didn’t change the rules to ensure good, diverse candidates could remain on the debate stage,” tweeted Elizabeth Warren. “They shouldn’t change the rules to let a billionaire on. Billionaires shouldn’t be allowed to play by different rules—on the debate stage, in our democracy, or in our government.”

“When @CoryBooker led an effort to change the debate thresholds, the DNC refused — saying they couldn’t benefit any candidate,” former candidate Julian Castro tweeted. “It seems the only candidate they’re willing to benefit is a billionaire who’s buying his way into the race. Total mess.”

Candidate Tom Steyer said the Democratic Party’s decision to change the rules now “to accommodate Mike Bloomberg and not changing them in the past to ensure a more diverse debate stage is just plain wrong.”

Tulsi Gabbard’s response was slightly different. Instead of moaning about the Democrats not changing the rules to ensure diversity on stage when Democratic voters apparently preferred older and whiter candidates, she accused Bloomberg of buying the DNC.

Does Tulsi have a point? Did Bloomberg buy the DNC? According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) records, she might have a valid point.

On November 19, 2019, five days before announcing his candidacy, Michael Bloomberg made three donations of $106,500 each to the Democratic National Committee.

These are, in fact, separate donations, and not duplicate entries. If you look at the individual records for each donation, they have unique transaction identification numbers, 34364928, 34364940, and 34364931.

It is not clear when the requirements for the January debate in Iowa were established, but according to reports, they were announced publicly on December 20, 2019. It is certainly possible the committee had already established the requirements for the January debate when Bloomberg entered the race, but there is definitely reason to be suspicious that Bloomberg’s donations, which totaled $319,500, were effectively used by Bloomberg to influence the DNC to change the rules to favor his candidacy where other candidates’ requests had failed to do so.

Have other candidates donated to the DNC? Yes, but not in the same way.

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign donated $75,000 to the DNC on May 10, 2019, weeks after formally launching his campaign.

Andrew Yang’s campaign donated $50,000 on October 29, 2019, nearly two years after formally launching his campaign.

A search of FEC records found no other sizable donations by any other 2020 Democratic Party candidate, therefore, it’s safe to say that Bloomberg’s donations are unusual for someone who was planning to run for president. This alone raises some very interesting questions.

Instead of shedding crocodile tears over the Democratic party’s failure to ensure diversity on the debate stage, perhaps more candidates should be asking if Bloomberg literally bought his way onto the stage at the upcoming debate.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis