Mike Bloomberg’s decision to dump hundreds of former campaign staffers from his payroll — after promising them paychecks through the election — has left a trail of ill will within the Democratic Party that’s now roiling a key part of its general election operation.
After accepting a much-needed $18 million donation from Bloomberg when he dropped out of the presidential campaign in March, Democratic National Committee officials have been pressuring battleground state parties to hire his former employees, according to senior party aides in three swing states. Those staffers found themselves jobless after the billionaire broke his campaign’s public promise to keep them employed through November whether he won the nomination or not.
But some state parties are chafing at the hiring requests. Senior state party officials told POLITICO they’re being tasked with cleaning up Bloomberg’s public relations mess rather than hiring the best people for the jobs.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one Democratic operative familiar with the dispute, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the situation. “There were dozens of candidates [with qualified employees] and the parties are being asked to prioritize the rich guy’s staff over everyone else’s.”
David Bergstein, the DNC’s director of communications for battleground states, did not dispute that the DNC is pushing some state parties to hire ex-Bloomberg aides. But he said that “every potential staffer goes through a competitive hiring process.”
Bergstein added that “the Bloomberg campaign ended with a very large pool of available and talented staff in many battlegrounds, and we’re making sure they, along with others who are interested, have opportunities to apply to our state organizing programs.”
The state parties’ resistance has in turn irked Bloomberg’s team. “If people don’t want the money, they can return it and it will be put to use in alternative efforts to defeat President Trump,” a Bloomberg spokesperson told POLITICO. “The Bloomberg campaign made the largest transfer in DNC history, $18 million, to help boost the DNC’s coordinated efforts, including by enabling them to hire field organizers of ours who wanted to continue through November. It is certainly our hope that effort not only continues, but accelerates.”
The rancor has highlighted Bloomberg’s growing influence in the Democratic Party as a donor and power broker after his failed presidential campaign, which now extends to hiring and contracting decisions. The rift over Bloomberg staffers is not an academic matter for Democrats: As Joe Biden ramps up his digital operation and shifts increasingly to online campaigning, the battleground organizers are some of the only on-the-ground infrastructure Democrats have in swing states right now.
Bloomberg’s digital operation has also been a point of contention since he left the race. The digital firm he started, Hawkfish, is seeking to take over large parts of Biden’s digital operation for the general election, a possibility that has caused a clash inside the campaign.
Part of the disagreement over the staffers seems to stem from differing expectations of what Bloomberg’s money would be used for. The Bloomberg team argued that $18 million is enough to hire 500 additional organizers, but the DNC said it is using that money to hire people faster and ahead of schedule rather than increasing the expected size of its battleground organizing teams.
The DNC has also been committing money to other areas, such as recently reserving $22 million in YouTube ads for the fall.
One of the three senior state party aides said some of the Bloomberg staffers were underqualified and overpaid on his presidential campaign, and had outsized expectations. Entry-level organizing staffers on the Bloomberg campaign were paid at a rate of $72,000 a year, nearly double the salary of similar positions on other presidential campaigns.
“They’ve been frickin spoiled,” the person said. “The two trends we noticed: They overshot what they were applying for” and some “felt as though they should have been compensated more than we were willing to go.”
“[The DNC] did make it clear it was a priority for them,” the state party aide added. “It was clearly a priority that they be able to show that they hired a lot more ex-Bloomberg [staffers] than they had to that date.”
Other state party officials expressed gratitude to the DNC and Bloomberg for the large infusion of resources.
“These early investments have helped us dramatically grow our organizing programs and ensure we have the folks we need to connect with voters early and across the Commonwealth,” Lauren Reyes, Virginia’s Democratic Coordinated Campaign Director, said in a statement through a DNC spokesperson.
Even state party officials who were frustrated by the pressure to hire Bloomberg staffers, however, said they ultimately blamed Bloomberg for the problem. In order to ramp up his campaign quickly, Bloomberg enticed employees with a pledge that they would have jobs through November. After he lost the primary, Bloomberg abruptly fired most of the 2,400 members of the staff, leaving them unemployed and without health insurance amid an economy in freefall. The former New York City mayor, who is estimated to be one of the richest 10 people in the world, is facing two class-action lawsuits from former aides over the situation.
After a barrage of criticism, Bloomberg relented last week and offered to pay for health care coverage for his former campaign staff through COBRA until November, citing “these extraordinary circumstances.”