After 100 days and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on advertising, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday announced that he was ending his presidential campaign and throwing his resources– including his staffers–behind presumed Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden. But the billionaire’s switch from candidate to candidate’s bankroller raised eyebrows among legal experts, with several pointing out that putting his staff to work for Biden would violate campaign finance laws.
“I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it,” Bloomberg said Wednesday. “After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden.”
Bloomberg pledged in January that regardless of how he fared in the presidential race he would continue paying his nearly 500 campaign staffers (now closer to 2,000) to continue working on behalf of whomever becomes the Democratic nominee.
Senior Bloomberg advisor Tim O’Brien reiterated that pledge Wednesday, saying the campaign had “long-term leases and long-term contracts and the intention was always to put this big machine we have built behind whoever the nominee is.”
But UC Irvine professor of law and political science Rick Hasen pointed out that such a feat would be very difficult to pull off while remaining in compliance with federal election law. The law only allows individuals to contribute a maximum of $2,800 in money or services. Political Action Committees (PACs), on the other hand, can spend unlimited funds but are prohibited from coordinating in any way the candidates campaign.
“If this happens, it cannot be done in coordination with the Biden campaign or it will be an excessive illegal campaign contribution to the Biden campaign,” Hasen noted. “Would love to hear from Bloomberg’s campaign lawyers as to what he thinks he might be able to do with his campaign committee to help Biden without running afoul of campaign finance limits.”
Would love to hear from Bloomberg's campaign lawyers as to what he thinks he might be able to do with his campaign committee to help Biden without running afoul of campaign finance limits.
— Rick Hasen (@rickhasen) March 4, 2020
Hasen’s incredulity was shared by attorney and writer Luppe Luppen, who noted that Bloomberg’s deputy campaign manager couldn’t provide details to reports on how his campaign staff might be put to work for Biden.
A tweet for everyone who bellowed SUPER PAC at me earlier. They’re coordinating. https://t.co/bQoEQA8Izv
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) March 4, 2020
Paul Seamus Ryan, the vice president of policy and litigation for government watchdog group Common Cause, was also skeptical of Bloomberg’s pledge.
“If they’re working for Biden campaign, they must be paid by Biden campaign,” he wrote. “Total ‘contributions’ from Bloomberg to Biden are limited to $2800 in primary. This includes ‘in-kind contributions’–i.e., goods or services provided to Biden campaign without charge or at less than usual and normal charge, including personnel and/or facilities.”
Ryan did note that Bloomberg could fund an independent PAC in support of Biden, provided there was no coordination between the PAC and the campaign.
Total "contributions" from Bloomberg to Biden are limited to $2800 in primary. This includes "in-kind contributions"–i.e., goods or services provided to Biden campaign without charge or at less than usual and normal charge, including personnel and/or facilities. pic.twitter.com/FIsOLFX7Qw
— Paul Seamus Ryan (@ThePaulSRyan) March 4, 2020
[image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]