Billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this weekend that he’ll invest at least $100,000,000 in the state of Florida to help elect his one-time presidential rival, Joe Biden, beat Donald Trump. Say that again: one hundred million dollars and probably more. The bulk of his money will likely flow to television ads, but some portion will end up online as well.
As I explored in a C&E piece right before Bloomberg dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination in March, his money could have a big effect on campaigns down-ballot. Now that we’re well into September, battleground-state digital ad inventory is at a premium, and someone dropping tens of millions on pre-roll video, programmatic banner ads and Facebook ads will only crank up the competition for voters’ eyeballs. The big losers could be state/local campaigns, who may have to outbid Bloomberg if they want their content seen.
While I’m sure the Biden campaign welcomes the help, even has his campaign and Democratic outside groups have poured their own millions into Florida television and digital ads, Bloomberg’s money comes with limitations. Of course, he can’t formally coordinate with a presidential campaign, though his data-analytics firm (Hawkfish) would likely target similar sets of voters. Still, unconnected outreach operations can either double-up on voters, which may waste resources but isn’t inherently bad, or it can miss voters, which may be.
Also, Bloomberg’s TV ad dollars won’t go as far as Biden’s. For one thing, the billionaire’s team will have to buy ads at the last minute, since they won’t have reserved inventory in advance. And, they’ll have to pay the full in-the-moment price rather than the standard, un-cranked rates reserved for political campaigns.
One reason Bloomberg’s apparently willing to take the plunge in Florida? Wealthy Republican donors are spending big in battleground states, too, and the newly minted Democrat wants to free up resources for Biden and outside groups to use elsewhere in the country. So here we are: billionaires are competing to spend ridiculous amounts of money to influence our elections. Is this any way to run a democracy?