Bloomberg's Campaign Spending Could Destroy Democracy

“[W]e have a democracy, a democracy dependent upon the funders and dependent upon the people, competing dependencies, possibly conflicting dependencies depending upon who the funders are… This is a corruption.” -- Lawrence Lessig speaking at TED in 2013

This is not an article about policies.

It is not about parties.

It is not about who would make a better president of the United States.

This is an article about media, and information, and how we come to know things.

We all know that the influence of money on politics is overwhelming. In 2012, the U.S. presidential candidates -- not counting PACs -- spent $1.12 billion on their campaigns. In 2016, they spent $1.5 billion.

In this election cycle, Mike Bloomberg, who will not be on a ballot until next Tuesday, has already spent more than $500 million dollars.



So what? It’s his money. He can spend it however he wants, right?


Think about what a $500 million ad buy does.

1. It blankets the airwaves. Total saturation. In the book "Thinking Fast and Slow," the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman mentioned the “mere availability” effect, describing an experiment where people were significantly more likely to rate unfamiliar words favorably if they had recently seen those words many times in advertisements.

“The mere exposure effect does not depend on the conscious experience of familiarity. In fact, the effect does not depend on consciousness at all: it occurs even when the repeated words or pictures are shown so quickly that the observers never become aware of having seen them. They still end up liking the words or pictures that were presented more frequently.”

2. It distorts the market. According to -- *checks notes* -- Bloomberg the media outlet, Bloomberg the candidate is spending $5.6 million per day, almost double the previous record for a presidential primary.

As a result, we’re experiencing a shortage of supply for ad buys. Politico reports that, “On average in markets around the country, prices for political TV ads have risen by 20 percent since Bloomberg began his campaign.”

3. It delivers an untested candidate. The difference between paid media and earned media is that you control the former and not the latter. Bloomberg skipped eight debates, leaving his opponents to duke it out without him. There’s a reason he’s been a disaster in both of his debates: because it’s the first time he’s had to face any scrutiny.

In an interview with CBS News' Gayle King in December, Bloomberg claimed that, “I’m not buying [the election]… I’m doing exactly the same thing [the other candidates] are doing, except that I’m using my own money and they’re using somebody else’s money.”

But he is not doing the same thing as the other candidates. He is not having to use his power of persuasion or the strength of his stances to convince people that he is a better option. He is simply sucking up all the oxygen and waiting for the others to die.

Bloomberg’s billions make him a jet plane in a horse race. He’s Kramer from “Seinfeld” beating up nine-year-olds, whining, “We’re at the same belt level!”

None of this is about whether he would be a good president. Rasonable people can disagree about that. It’s about the fact that using a vast personal fortune to circumvent the political process is a corruption.

This is a media problem. It’s a problem of how much you are allowed to spend, where you are allowed to spend it, and where you are allowed to get it. It’s a problem that can be addressed at the level of campaign finance reform or at the level of media regulation. But it is a problem that must be addressed.

Bloomberg’s nomination would represent the utter annihilation of the marketplace of ideas. And surely ideas still count for something in America?

3 comments about "Bloomberg's Campaign Spending Could Destroy Democracy".
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  1. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, February 28, 2020 at 3:23 p.m.

    Kaila, good post. I don't disgree that Bloomberg's potential spend is enormous, but I'm not convinced it's bad for democracy or comes without ideas.  According to, presidential election cycle spend in 2008, '12 and '16 spend averaged $2.6B. If $2.6B in spend isn't enought to destroy democracy, what is the # that does? I personally prefer the airwaves dominated by a single candidate than dominated by unknown PAC's claiming to be independent but at the end of the day, supporting one set of ideas.  At least I know who's pushing what.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 28, 2020 at 3:46 p.m.

    While everyone is focused on the amount of money that Bloomberg is spending, very little is said about how this spending "frenzy" impacts the consumer---in this case potential POTUS voters. For example, almost everyone agrees that excessive frequency in TV advertising is wasteful and redundent----to the point where it may be counter productive. With this in mind ask ourselves what percentage of Bloomberg's "impressions" actually get people's attention? As he spends and spends, is that percentage---whatever it is----steadily declining?

     As for Bloomberg's spending spree destroying democracy, what is his share of voice compared to all of the advertising that we are exposed to per day? Is it overwhelming us---as we are led to believe?According to the article, Bloomberg is spending $5-6 million per day. If that's a true estimate, then his spending represents only a  fraction of what all advertisers are spending daily---roughly $ 700 million. Yes, Bloomberg is spending a lot right now, but that's not going to continue indefinitely.

    In our new report, "Cross-Platform Dimensions 2020", we estimate that an average adult pays some attention to about 150-160 ad messages daily but lots of attention to an even smaller number within the 150-160---probably only 25-35  ads. It may well be that one of these is a Bloomberg ad--- or maybe not. Even so, I would say that  there are other far more serious dangers to democracy roaming the land that we should be concenred about. Just my ever humble opinion, of course.

  3. Tom Haymond from Creative Mobile Technologies, March 4, 2020 at 2:10 p.m.

    Far from destroying democracy, I think it has proven that advertising alone cannot "buy" votes (that comes from politicians promising special benefits and programs for groups of people in exchange for getting elected). I think it also shows that advertising alone cannot make people buy or support something they don't totally support, and that brand performance is critical to get the maximum return from an ad investment. The couple of debate performances and attacks by other candidates showed flaws in Bloomberg as a brand. Exhibit A? Bloomberg ended his candidacy.

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