So you want to buy an election?

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has made it clear he is going to try to buy the presidency. His campaign spent over $188 million of his own money in just the last quarter of 2019, more than all other candidates combined, and he has already spent more than $300 million on ads. He says he is prepared to spend a billion dollars of his $61 billion fortune.

If he is going to buy this election, though, he should at least do it more directly.

So far, basically all of Bloomberg’s money is going to highly-paid political consultants and to giant ad buys directed to television networks and massive social media companies. Sure, he is offering $150 to people with modest followings on social media to try to make him look popular, but this firehose of campaign money is mostly directed at people and companies with plenty of money already. Let’s at least make sure some of this tsunami of cash trickles down.

What Bloomberg should do is pledge to donate $5 to worthy causes for every $1 dollar he spends on traditional campaign tactics. This would do four things:

1. Let him shamelessly try to buy the election more directly by putting money in key voters pockets.

2. Prove he is serious about his plan to raise taxes on rich people like himself, since $5 billion is easily how much more he would have paid if his tax plan had been in place before.

3. Prove his commitment to specific issues that are important to Democratic voters.

4. Have zero negative impact on his life because even after giving $5 billion away he would still be one of the 20 richest people on earth.

Bloomberg could prove his commitment to climate change while courting super Tuesday voters by promising to personally pay for major public transit system fares this year, making them free in the Boston area ($664 million), the San Francisco Bay area ($479 million), Los Angeles ($285 million), Denver ($149 million), Dallas ($63 million), Houston ($62 million), Salt Lake City ($53.4 million), and Austin ($22.5 million). All together that would cost less than $2 billion.

Bloomberg could also show support for teachers and education by reimbursing every teacher for the amount they currently spend out of pocket on school supplies, which is around $459 dollars per teacher. That would be only about $1.5 billion.

Or Bloomberg could show his concern for the least fortunate by personally paying for interim housing for every unsheltered homeless person in the city of Los Angeles for a year, which would cost just $657 million.

Or his commitment to reproductive rights by directly covering the cost for the 53 percent of women who pay out of pocket for an abortion. This would be only about $320 million.

Or his commitment to children by personally paying off all school children’s current meal debt to end lunch shaming this year. This shouldn’t cost more than $100 million.

Bloomberg could, in fact, do all of these things this year and still not spend $5 billion.

It would be a much better way for Bloomberg to try to buy his way into the White House and it would also show how much better society could be if we didn’t let rich people hoard all the wealth. If we are going to live with a late Roman Empire “bread and circuses” political reality, where only billionaires can fight over who gets to be in power, the least we can ask is that they provide some quality bread instead of spending it all on the people who own the circuses.

Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week’s “Today’s best articles” newsletter here.

Leave a Reply