Michael Bloomberg's general pitch for president is that he is richer, more ruthless, and more willing to buy his way to an election win than Donald Trump. He's been sued a ton for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination, seems to have a frightening and psychotic relationship with dogs, and appeared in Jeffrey Epstein's black book. The #Resistance views these traits in Donald Trump as signs the president is a rapacious pig-man, which it true. But these same traits apparently make Bloomberg a principled leader, at least according to some hosts on MSNBC.
But other Democrats aren't buying Bloomberg's shtick — or, more accurate, letting themselves be bought. Earlier this week, South Florida progressive activist Elijah Manley said he received a call from a Bloomberg staffer who offered him $6,500 per month (plus medical benefits) if Manley would join the campaign as an adviser for "racial justice and social justice issues." Manley says he declined because he's a Bernie Sanders supporter and because he thought Bloomberg was, frankly, trying to buy black support in Florida.
"At first, I was kinda interested and debated providing any resources I could," says Manley, a 21-year-old who rose to local fame as a progressive activist in Broward County when he was in high school. "But once they put a price tag on it, it seemed desperate and not authentic. It seemed like they wanted to basically use me as a token."
As the Intercept first reported yesterday, that offer isn't out of the ordinary for Bloomberg's campaign. The businessman and former mayor of New York City, who is worth an estimated $55 billion, is one of the ten richest people in the world — and he is raining money on staffers, campaign advisers, and even Instagram influencers in order to pretend he's cool and funny and not an oligarch who has said racist stuff in public for decades. The Intercept reported that Bloomberg's salary offers (often $5,000 to $8,000 a month plus housing stipends, laptops, phones, and benefits) are so generous he's luring scores of staffers from other campaigns. Though it's normal for campaign staffers to make decent money, the sheer size and scale of the cash Bloomberg is throwing around borders on unprecedented in American politics. He has also notably received endorsements from a whole host of politicians who benefited in the past from his own so-called charitable giving.
The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to a message from New Times yesterday, but his camp told a Miami Herald reporter earlier this week that Manley's claims were "simply not true." Nevertheless, Manley says he received a call from Dan Kanninen, a former Barack Obama staffer who now serves as a Bloomberg 2020 states director, according to Kanninen's Twitter bio. Manley provided New Times a screenshot of the call log on his phone showing that on February 6, he spoke for 16 minutes with someone using the phone number matching Kanninen's political consulting firm, STG. The firm did not respond to a message from New Times yesterday.
Received a call from the Bloomberg campaign last week offering $6,500/mo with benefits for an advisory role on the campaign. That’s 100% more than I’m making now. My answer was of course— No. I’m with @BernieSanders. They out here stealing people y’all!— Elijah Manley (@iElijahManley) February 11, 2020
Bloomberg camp says this is "simply not true." https://t.co/eYR6MG85UL— David Smiley (@NewsbySmiley) February 12, 2020
Manley says he initially debated taking the offer because the salary and benefits were significantly more generous than what he earns now. He says he's also not opposed to the idea of advising candidates on social justice issues. But, he says, as the conversation with Kanninen continued, he sensed Kanninen had mostly reached out to say Bloomberg had support from a black activist. In fact, Manley claims that he told Kanninen he was a Sanders supporter and that Kanninen responded by saying that was OK as long as Manley still "advised" the Bloomberg campaign.
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"I told him I support Bernie Sanders; I said why I support Bernie and think he's the best candidate for black people; and said I don’t know if I can take an actual role on the campaign if I support someone else," Manley tells New Times. "But I don't think the guy cared that I was supporting someone else. He said, 'You can support whomever you want personally, but we'd like to have you on the campaign.' That makes it sound like, one, you can't find your own supporters and, two, you're tokenizing me."
Manley adds, "I basically just declined. But it was really inviting. I don't have benefits right now."
Update 2/15/20, 5 p.m: After this story was published, a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson contacted New Times. Noting that Kanninen himself was in New York on February 6, the spokesperson asserted that he could not have called Manley from a landline in STG's office. But the campaign could not confirm that someone else had not placed the call.
“On our end we just have no record of speaking to him,” the spokesperson said.