Bloomberg Bankrolls a Social-Media Army to Push Message
Campaign is hiring workers for $2,500 per month to promote Bloomberg to all their contacts
Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is hiring hundreds of workers in California to post regularly on their personal social-media accounts in support of the candidate and send text messages to their friends about him.
The effort, which could cost millions of dollars, is launching ahead of California’s March 3 primary and could later be deployed nationwide, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It is one of the most unorthodox yet by the heavy-spending billionaire and blurs the lines between traditional campaign organizing and the distribution of sponsored content.
Most campaigns encourage their supporters to post on social media about their candidates, but paying them at this scale to express support on their personal accounts is unusual, experts say.
A California staffer and the documents reviewed by the Journal describe a multimillion-dollar-a-month effort aimed at helping Mr. Bloomberg attract support after having entered the race long after other candidates had built their ground campaigns. The documents also say the campaign is adopting a strategy, which it credits the Trump campaign with using to great effect, to try to influence potential voters through people they know and trust rather than strangers.
To staff the effort, the campaign is hiring more than 500 “deputy digital organizers” to work 20 to 30 hours a week and receive $2,500 a month, the documents show. In exchange, those workers are expected to promote Mr. Bloomberg to everyone in their phones’ contacts by text each week and make social-media posts supporting him daily, the documents show.
“The Fight for Equal Rights Has Been One of the Great Fights of Mike’s Life,” reads one such suggested prompt regarding Mr. Bloomberg’s early support for same-sex marriage.
Publicly available job applications for those positions require applicants to provide their social-media handles for review and state that staffers may be asked to undertake more traditional field-organizing work like phone banking.
Helping organize the effort is Outvote, an app that enables users to send pre-written texts, post campaign materials to social media and send data back to campaigns. The app, funded by Higher Ground Labs, a Democratic political technology incubator, generally focuses on pushing volunteers to send content. Outvote also allows users to look up whether their friends have voted in past elections by matching their contact lists against public data.
A spokeswoman for the campaign characterized the workers being paid to promote Mr. Bloomberg as the future of political organizing. “We are meeting voters everywhere on any platform that they consume their news,” a spokeswoman for the Bloomberg campaign said. “One of the most effective ways of reaching voters is by activating their friends and network to encourage them to support Mike for president.”
Facebook Inc.’s policies historically have addressed the worlds of political advertising and influencer marketing as separate. The company has only recently begun to grapple with the intersection of the two.
It is not clear if messages like those the Bloomberg campaign is suggesting would need to be labeled as sponsored content under Facebook’s disclosure rules. A Facebook spokeswoman said posts by outside “content creators” would require labels if a campaign paid for them, but that posts by campaign employees wouldn’t need to be labeled as ads. The company didn’t address how it would categorize posts by employees paid to promote content to their personal social networks.
A review of social-media posts by some people being paid by the campaign found they aren’t labeled as sponsored content.
Officials at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have said that merely tagging a brand or business on social media is a form of endorsement that falls under its purview–and should be disclosed if an audience would view an endorsement differently knowing that an influencer had financially benefited from the brand.
The Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman said that the campaign doesn’t believe posts from its deputy field organizers need to be labeled, describing them as a new form of political organizing rather than paid influencer content.
Political campaigns have long used a combination of volunteers and paid workers to do things like run phone banks and knock on doors to support a candidate. But experts said the Bloomberg campaign’s willingness to pay to leverage supporters’ existing social connections is novel.
James Thurber, professor of government at American University, said groups promoting political issues sometimes use similar strategies of paying people to express support online, but it is unusual from a candidate. “It’s classic AstroTurf tactics,” he said. “When you have unlimited resources the way Bloomberg seems to, you can do that.”
The Trump campaign includes staff dedicated to digital and social media, but it doesn’t compensate people to post on their personal social media accounts, a spokeswoman said.
At least until recently, the Bloomberg campaign also planned to recruit another 2,500 campaign “digital organizing fellows” who would be paid $500 a month in exchange for posting daily on social media and putting every person in their contact list into the Bloomberg campaign’s database, according to documents reviewed by the Journal and a deputy organizer who had been told to expect to oversee five of the fellows.
The campaign spokeswoman said that it had decided not to proceed with the “fellows.” She also said the campaign had changed the title of the $2,500-a-month deputy digital roles to “deputy field organizer” to reflect that the role may also include more traditional campaign activities.
Bloomberg’s spending has helped spark a rise in the polls, enabling him to qualify for Wednesday’s Democratic debate.
Though he only declared his candidacy late last year, Mr. Bloomberg has exceeded the advertising spending of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar combined.
The Bloomberg campaign also recently worked with an offshoot of media and marketing company Jerry Media to contract with large meme accounts to push the campaign, the New York Times has reported, leading Facebook last week to clarify its rules around such posts.
The Bloomberg campaign will suggest content for sharing and exert some control over the social-media outreach efforts, according to the documents reviewed by the Journal. Though the Bloomberg campaign won’t have direct access or authority over its organizers’ social-media feeds, a team of quality-control staff will verify that the organizers are posting appropriately.
“Ha! Even Republicans think Mike is our best bet to defeat Trump! Let’s prove them right,” said one suggested message for text or social media, linking to a news article citing conservative political operatives bullish about Mr. Bloomberg’s chances.
The campaign’s approach is fine with at least some unpaid Bloomberg supporters, like Jason Miller.
A rabbi in Michigan who runs a social-media marketing company, Mr. Miller said he believes the former New York mayor is “a mensch” and that his willingness to spend a vast amount on his campaign makes him uniquely suited to beating Donald Trump.
He said he believes it is important to be transparent about paid commercial promotions, but he views the ethics of political activism as less clear.
“With a campaign, there is a gray area,” he said, noting the standard campaign practice of assigning both volunteers and paid staff to phone bank and knock on doors. While it is possible there should be clearer lines drawn in social media, he said, “it took decades for TV and radio to figure out what disclosure for ads should be.”
Brokers Fight to Keep Their Pay Perks
SEC proposal looks to balance brokerage model with concerns over hidden incentives
Brokers won their fight against the controversial fiduciary rule. Now, a battle is brewing over a new proposal by securities regulators that would require them to cut back on sales incentives tied to customer advice.
The battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission will play out in 2019. Major brokerages including Morgan Stanley, Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch and Fidelity Investments are pressing the SEC to let them maintain current broker pay practices, arguing the plan could limit the products and services they provide.
SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, meanwhile, is staking his legacy on changes that would require more broker disclosures and limit sales incentives.
The proposal says that brokers should avoid “compensation incentives for employees to favor one type of product over another” and suggests pay for brokers be based on “neutral factors” such as the amount of time and complexity of the work involved. Brokers claim such a system could put their business model at risk.
.. The industry is hopeful Mr. Clayton’s statements mean the SEC won’t force brokers to eliminate all forms of variable compensation, but instead boost disclosure of pay arrangements and weed out some extreme practices such as sales contests.
.. Most brokerages pay their employees more for selling certain products over others, depending on how lucrative they are. This practice can result in customers paying more for products and services than they need to, though brokers defend the practice as the only way to reasonably offer a range of investment options. Without assurances their pay practices comply with government regulations, investment firms say they could stop offering certain products to avoid possible legal liability... To advocates of a tougher rule, pay incentives call into question whether a product is being presented to a customer for their benefit or for the broker’s.“Brokerage firms artificially create all sorts of perverse incentives to encourage brokers to make certain recommendations that are very profitable for the firm and the broker, even if they aren’t really good for the customer,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) at the December hearing.
Donald Trump talks like a mob boss — and reminds us he has no idea what he’s doing
Beyond flipping, Trump addresses Michael Cohen’s charges by repeatedly emphasizing that the hush money payments at the center of his guilty plea were not made with campaign funds. There’s just one problem: That doesn’t exonerate him.
In context, Trump appears to be trying to say that this proves his innocence, but the opposite is the case — you can’t just evade campaign finance rules by paying for your campaign expenses with non-campaign funds. If you could, the rules would be meaningless.
.. A separate issue, however, is that while a private citizen is free to make a secret hush money payment to his former mistress if he likes, a political campaign is required to disclose what it’s spending money on.
.. If Trump had reported a cash payment to Stormy Daniels to the Federal Election Commission, that naturally would have raised questions about why he was paying her and somewhat defeat the purpose of making hush money payments in the first place. So what Trump and Cohen seem to have decided to do is avoid using campaign money, thus allowing them to avoid disclosure rules.
.. But just like lying on the disclosure form would be illegal and refusing to do the disclosure would be illegal, paying for campaign expenses out of a non-campaign account and then declining to report that as a contribution to the campaign is also illegal. Simply put, there is no legal way to spend money on your election campaign without disclosing that fact.