Bloomberg unleashes nearly $1M in TV ads on Michigan, disclosures show

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman turned Democratic presidential candidate, is starting his campaign with a spending burst that already includes nearly $1 million in advertisements aimed at Michigan.

Bloomberg formally launched his campaign for president on Sunday — months after other Democratic candidates did and after five primary debates. But Bloomberg's campaign aimed to boost the former New York City mayor's chances with heavy ad spending across multiple states.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg's campaign declined to comment on its spending in Michigan. But Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said Bloomberg's ads are likely an attempt to strengthen his position in national polling while also helping him in states that vote early in the nominating process.

"There is some rationale behind it, but it’s still a very untested strategy," Grossmann said.

From Nov. 25 through Dec. 3, Bloomberg's campaign had reserved about $950,000 in airtime for broadcast ads in Michigan alone, according to a Detroit News review of disclosures on political ad sales by broadcast TV stations.

According to filings from TV stations in Flint and Grand Rapids, Bloomberg's Michigan advertising will continue from Dec. 4 through Dec. 9. His ads in Michigan mark the first significant disclosed purchases in the state for the 2020 presidential campaign.

Michigan's presidential primary takes place on March 10.

According to disclosures currently available, Bloomberg's ads were airing in all major markets in the Lower Peninsula. Bloomberg's largest buys were in the Detroit market, where his campaign purchased about $508,000 in airtime.

The money behind Bloomberg's ads is coming from his own pocket as he's not accepting political contributions, according to his campaign. Bloomberg's net worth is about $54 billion, according to Forbes.

He co-founded the financial information and media company Bloomberg LP in 1981, a Forbes biography of him says. He was the mayor of New York City from 2002 through 2013.

"An entrepreneur, mayor and philanthropist, Mike has built a career following data, bringing people together and putting progress over partisanship," a press release announcing Bloomberg's candidacy said. "He’s a proven leader with an unbeatable track record in creating jobs and implementing progressive policies that make a difference in people’s lives."

But Bloomberg's candidacy and ad spending have already drawn criticism from some Democrats.

Bloomberg has been a major political donor, giving to causes on both sides of the aisle. In Michigan, he backed former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, contributing $6,800 — the maximum a donor could give directly to a candidate — to Snyder's re-election campaign in 2014, according to a campaign finance disclosure.

A Bloomberg funded committee, Independence USA, spent $2.7 million on ads benefiting Snyder that year, according to tracking by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).

In 2018, however, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a pro-gun control organization Bloomberg has funded, was the a financial supporter of Democrat Dana Nessel in her successful campaign to become attorney general. The group spent more than $500,000 to back Nessel, according to disclosures.

Bloomberg's net worth is about $54 billion, according to Forbes.

Independence USA also spent $5 million to support Democrats Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin in their 2018 campaigns to win U.S. House seats that had been held by Republicans, according to MCFN.

Nicole Bedi, a gun violence prevention advocate and former Democratic state House candidate from Oakland County, said she appreciates the work Bloomberg has done to build the gun control movement and fight the National Rifle Association. But Bedi said she won't vote for Bloomberg in the primary.

"I personally have more of a progressive lean, and I am sort of the ilk that believes billionaires are the problem and not the solution," Bedi said.

There are questions about how far Bloomberg's ad spending can get him in a crowded Democratic field.

Joe DiSano, a Democratic political consultant in Michigan who founded a firm called DiSano Strategies, said he doesn't believe there is a place for Bloomberg in the primary.

"Bloomberg has to spend huge amounts of money to change and alter the marketplace so he is the solution," DiSano said.

Grossmann, the Michigan State University professor, noted California businessman and Democratic candidate Tom Steyer has spent heavily on advertising in early voting states but the spending hasn't been enough to get him to the front of the field.

However, part of the benefit of the spending for Bloomberg is it spurs conversation and media coverage focused on his campaign, Grossmann said.