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.

Examples of messages that the Bloomberg campaign suggests supporters send to their friends via OutVote, an app the campaign is paying workers to use.

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 Commissiohave 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.

How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time

How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time
Televised presidential debates have been a mainstay of modern American politics for the past sixty years. In this video, Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Jerry Seib breaks down how they’ve changed over time and what we can expect in 2020. Photo: Elise Amendola/AP

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.”

You’ve Seen the Ads, Now See the Candidate

After spending over $400 million promoting himself, Michael Bloomberg faces the scrutiny of a debate for the first time.

On Wednesday, the leading Democratic candidates for president will take the debate stage in Las Vegas, three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses. This will be the race’s ninth debate, and many voters may be tempted to skip the show. That would be a mistake.

While many of the candidates and their sales pitches are by now familiar — in some cases painfully so — this will be the debate debut of Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire business mogul and former mayor of New York who has been promoting himself, with the help of his personal fortune, as the one player with “the record & the resources” to topple President Trump.

Despite not competing in the first four voting contests, Mr. Bloomberg has emerged as a top-tier contender, sowing anxiety and uncertainty among his rivals. A national poll released Tuesday showed him at 19 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, second only to Bernie Sanders. Other recent polls show him leading the field in Florida and tied for first in Virginia.

Rarely has a candidate come so far while revealing so little of himself, making Wednesday’s debate — the first time Mr. Bloomberg will face his primary competitors live and in person — far more significant, and interesting, than most.

Mr. Bloomberg sauntered into the race in late November, long after most of the field, and has run an unconventional campaign. He didn’t enter the early primaries and caucuses, and he has focused his energies — and his spending — on the diverse, delegate-rich states scheduled to vote on March 3, a.k.a. Super Tuesday.

It is a strategy made possible by the $61.8 billion fortune with which he is self-funding his run. That kind of money can buy an essentially unlimited number of campaign ads — including a $11 million Super Bowl spot — along with a boatload of strategists, staffers and support from local politicians and other influencers. It can also help build vital infrastructure, from local campaign offices to national databases. In less than three months, Mr. Bloomberg has dropped over $400 million.

Even as he has overwhelmed the field with his spending, Mr. Bloomberg has avoided many of the traditional hoops presidential hopefuls are expected to jump through. He skipped the endless retail politicking — the diner stops, county fairs and pancake breakfasts — that comes with wooing voters in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

He is not much for media sitdowns. (He declined an invitation by The Times’s editorial board to participate in our endorsement process.) He has not been involved in the televised town halls at which candidates have been detailing their policy positions. And, of course, he missed the first eight debates, letting him avoid much of the early bloodletting.

More specifically, Mr. Bloomberg was not eligible for the earlier debates, which required candidates to show a certain level of fund-raising support. The Democratic National Committee jettisoned that rule last month, enabling him to participate if he met the threshold of scoring 10 percent in four qualifying polls, which he did.

Already, there is much buzz about which of Mr. Bloomberg’s anxious competitors will hit him the hardest, and how he will respond. If this week’s skirmish with the Sanders campaign is any indication, the evening could get bumpy. Mr. Bloomberg has a reputation for not taking criticism or unwelcome queries particularly well, once calling a reporter whose question he disliked “a disgrace.” During his mayoral runs, he participated in at least eight debates. He tended to come prepared, data at hand, although he could be prickly and awkward at times. His last turn on a debate stage was in 2009.

Beyond the candidate clashes, this will be debate moderators’ first opportunity to kick the tires on Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy. They owe it to the public to do a thorough and vigorous job.

Presumably, he will come ready to answer the most overarching criticism: that he is trying to buy the presidency. And he can expect a grilling over his controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing — largely with young black and Hispanic men — while mayor. His apologizing for the practice as he began his campaign struck many as a tad cynical. At the very least, he’ll most likely face some follow-up queries, such as: What took you so long?

There is so much more to explore, both promising — like his new plan to address the cost and quality of college — and troubling — for instance, the widespread surveillance of Muslims by local law enforcement during his time as mayor.

In case the moderators are stuck for material, here are a few lines of inquiry to consider:

Mr. Bloomberg used to be a Republican and, over the years, supported numerous Republican candidates at the state and federal levels. Why should Democrats trust him to champion their values as president?

He once linked the financial collapse to measures taken to deal with the damages of redlining, the practice of banks denying home loans in minority neighborhoods. Does he still believe that?

He has been a longtime champion of gun control. How would he pursue reform if Republicans retain control of the Senate?

Once upon a time he opposed increasing the minimum wage, a move he now supports. What changed his mind?

Homelessness in New York surged on his watch. What lessons did he learn from this, and what would his housing policy be as president?

Multiple women who worked for his company accused him of inappropriate or demeaning comments. He has refused to release them from the nondisclosure agreements they signed. Why?

Considering all that we don’t know about Mr. Bloomberg, his grilling could run for the entire debate. And maybe it should. He is, after all, looking to disrupt not only this Democratic field but the entire nominating process. This debate and the one in South Carolina next Tuesday may be the only two opportunities for the broader public to get a real sense of him before Super Tuesday.

Compelling arguments can be, and have been, marshaled for and against Mr. Bloomberg. Is he a narcissistic ex-Republican with Big Brotherish tendencies and a sketchy record on race who is trying to buy the presidency? Is he the battle-tested, successful leader of the nation’s largest city whose business savvy and personal fortune make him especially well suited to dismantle Mr. Trump? Perhaps he is a bit of both.

No one really knows yet. But if he is to move even a step closer to the White House, voters deserve a clearer picture of his candidacy. That process begins Wednesday night.

‘I’d Do Her’: Mike Bloomberg and the Underbelly of #MeToo

Disparaging comments. Demeaning jokes. As the mogul reportedly considers a 2020 presidential run, it remains an open question whether his long-alleged history of undermining women will affect his chances.

If you find yourself seeking, in these turbulent times, evidence of steadiness among the chaos—proof that even as the seas rise and the winds whip and the world that was gives way to the world that will be, some things will remain the same—here is a fact that seems always to be true: Mike Bloomberg is considering a run for president.

The newest version of the old truth comes from an article published this week in The New York Times: The billionaire former mayor, the paper announces, validating the rumors, is again considering a presidential run—this time, however, as a Democrat. It would not be an easy candidacy. “Mr. Bloomberg,” the Times points out, “is plainly an uncomfortable match for a progressive coalition passionately animated by concern for economic inequality and the civil rights of women and minorities.” Indeed: In an interview with the paper, Bloomberg defends stop-and-frisk. And, voicing “doubt” about some of the revelations that have been made in the course of #MeToo, Bloomberg mentions as an example Charlie Rose, who had broadcast his show from a space in Bloomberg’s corporate offices. He declined to say, specifically, whether he believed the many allegations against Rose. “Let the court system decide,” the former mayor said.

What is not fully addressed in the Times article, however—and what is not fully explored in the many similar pieces that consider the current iteration of Mike Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions—is a series of stories about him, accumulated over decades, that suggests in the aggregate a distinct pattern when it comes to his treatment of women:

  • reports of disparaging comments made about women’s bodies and appearances.
  • Allegations of a deeply sexist work environment at the company that Bloomberg founded and, for many years, ran. Stories that linger like exhaust in the air every time Mike Bloomberg is mentioned as, potentially, the next president of the United States.
This is a time in America of accountabilities that are—this is the most generous way to put it—unevenly distributed. Some people bear the heaviest and cruelest of burdens; others move through the world with easy indemnity. Christine Blasey Ford makes an allegation of sexual violence against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh; she is attacked as a victimizer. The man who last sought the presidency of the United States admitted to—bragged about—his own history of assaulting women; he won the office nonetheless. Exhaust, exhausting: The impunities form their own kind of fog.

The stories about Mike Bloomberg, though—stories, told through lawsuits and journalistic accounts, that involve allegations not of physical abuse but of more insidious manifestations of misogyny—ask broader questions about the ways electoral politics and basic morality will continue to tangle with each other as #MeToo marches onward. Will the stories (many of which Bloomberg has publicly denied as the inventions of money-hungry opportunists) have any bearing on his potential presidential candidacy? Will the Americans (and specifically now, apparently, the Democrats) of the current moment consider allegations involving casual misogyny, on the personal level and at the institutional, to be politically disqualifying? Will they consider those claims, indeed, to be worth discussing at all? Or will they dismiss them as the predicable collateral of the thing Americans are conditioned, still, to value above all: the successful accumulation of power and wealth?

From 1996 to 1997, four women filed sexual-harassment or discrimination suits against Bloomberg the company. One of the suits included the following allegation: When Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a sales representative at the company, told Mike Bloomberg she was pregnant, he replied, “Kill it!” (Bloomberg went on, she alleged, to mutter, “Great, No. 16”—a reference, her complaint said, to the 16 women at the company who were then pregnant.) To these allegations, Garrison added another one: Even prior to her pregnancy, she claimed, Bloomberg had antagonized her by making disparaging comments about her appearance and sexual desirability. “What, is the guy dumb and blind?” he is alleged to have said upon seeing her wearing an engagement ring. “What the hell is he marrying you for?”

Bloomberg denied having made those comments, claiming that he passed a lie-detector test validating the denial but declining to release the results. (He also reportedly left Garrison a voicemail upon hearing that she’d been upset by the comments about her pregnancy: “I didn’t say it, but if I said it, I didn’t mean it.”) What Bloomberg reportedly did concede is that he had said of Garrison and other women,I’d do her.” In making the concession, however, he insisted that he had believed that to “do” someone meant merely “to have a personal relationship” with them.

That suit was settled in 2000; its terms were not disclosed. Other suits made similar claims. In a 1998 filing, Mary Ann Olszewski reported that “male employees from Mr. Bloomberg on down” routinely belittled women at the company—a pattern of harassment, she said, that culminated in her being raped in a Chicago hotel room by a Bloomberg executive who was also her direct superior. The case was dismissed (not, apparently, on its merits, but rather because Olszewski’s attorney had missed the deadlines to respond to a motion to end the case). Before it was, though, in a deposition relating to the suit, Bloomberg testified that he wouldn’t consider Olszewski’s rape allegation to be genuine unless there were “an unimpeachable third-party witness” to corroborate her claims. (Asked by a lawyer how such a person might happen to witness a rape, Bloomberg replied, “There are times when three people are together.”)

“Bloomberg’s Sexual Blind Spot” is how The Village Voice summed it up in 2001. “Anti-woman obnoxiousness,” Cord Jefferson, then at Gawkercalled it in 2013. Part of that obnoxiousness involves the many reports related to what Bloomberg once told a reporter: “I like theater, dining, and chasing women.” (He elaborated: “Let me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan. What do you think? It’s a wet dream.”) In his 1997 autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, the mogul bragged about keeping “a girlfriend in every city” during his years working as a Wall Street stock trader in the 1960s and ’70s. He is reported to have said, of the computer terminal that made his fortune, “It will do everything, including give you [oral sex]. I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business.”

There’s more: Bloomberg reportedly saying to a journalist and the journalist’s friend, as he gazed at a woman at a holiday party, Look at the ass on her.” (He denied having made that comment.) Bloomberg, according to a top aide, seeing attractive women and reflexively remarking, “Nice tits.” Bloomberg, mocking Christine Quinn, the then-speaker of New York’s City Council, for going too long between hair colorings. (“The couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored,” Quinn once said, “he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray.’”) Bloomberg mocking Quinn again, she said, for failing to wear heels at public events. (“I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again.’”) Bloomberg, quoted by colleagues as saying, “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s.” Bloomberg being asked in a deposition, “Have you ever made a comment to the effect that you would like to ‘do that piece of meat,’ or I’d ‘do her in a second’?” Bloomberg replying, “I don’t recall ever using the term meat at all.”

These reports suggest the extent of the blind spot. They also suggest, however, the expansive underbelly of #MeToo: the easy entitlements by which men come to see women as existing in part for their pleasure. The stories told of Bloomberg paint a picture of self-centric power, of moral tautologies, of limited empathies. (Joyce Purnick, in her 2009 biography, Mike BloombergMoney, Power, Politics, describes a man who is “curt, profane, cranky, and willful,” and, relatedly, “allergic to introspection.”) And, set as they are in the towers of the American corporation, places where power is assumed to justify itself, they suggest precisely the kind of trickle-down inequalities that politicians in particular might be in a position to combat. Sexism, for one, converted into a system: There is so much that is summoned—of hateful history, of the way that the past insinuates itself on the present—when a powerful man sizes up a less powerful woman in his employ and says, “I’d do her.”

Earlier this month, another suit involving Mike Bloomberg was (very briefly) in the news. The mogul was reinstated as a defendant in a 2016 civil suit brought against Bloomberg the company by a former employee: She claims that in addition to the hostile work environment and sexual discrimination she experienced at the company, she was raped by a manager at Bloomberg when she was 22. (Lawyers for Bloomberg and the now-terminated manager deny her allegations.) The suit also holds the majority owner of Bloomberg liable for the woman’s claims. The judge in the case, who had previously ruled that Mike Bloomberg had no immediate connection to the woman’s claims, reconsidered his ruling; the case will move forward with Bloomberg listed as a defendant.

Bloomberg has traditionally dismissed the lawsuits filed against him and his company as publicity stunts and money grabs and, in the fullest sense, nuisances. (“What’s happening,” he explained of one such case, “is that because I’m so visible, that obviously I’m a target.”) To run for office, however, is to make oneself a different kind of target; that is the exchange that is made when a person seeks such direct power over other people’s lives. The story published in the Times this week is a trial balloon for a potential presidential candidacy; it is also testing, however, another thing. What are voters willing to tolerate, at this point, in those who propose to lead them? What are they willing to ignore? What has changed since the last time Mike Bloomberg ran for public office? And what—the world being, in the end, full of truths that remain so stubbornly true—hasn’t changed at all?

The Bloomberg Effect: Huge Spending Transforms 2020 Campaign Dynamics

Michael Bloomberg has spent roughly three-quarters of the amount spent by all other presidential campaigns combined on ads

The presidential election is 10 months away, but Michael Bloomberg’s long-shot campaign is running like it’s already late October.

The candidate has spent $217 million so far on television and digital advertising, mostly ignoring the Democratic primaries and squarely challenging President Trump. The total is roughly three-quarters of the amount spent by all other campaigns, including Mr. Trump’s, combined.

It’s the game plan the billionaire used in his campaign for mayor of New York City in 2001, when he outspent his competitor nearly 5 to 1. Big spending has also made his philanthropy a dominant force on climate change, gun control and other issues. And it is how he has managed his lucrative business, paying up to bring in talent.

The flow of cash—dubbed the Bloomberg effect by media-measurement firm Advertising Analytics LLC—has upended the financial dynamics of the election. Television ad rates jumped 45% in Houston after the Bloomberg campaign bought $1 million worth of ads in November, Advertising Analytics said. The campaign paid as much as double the going rate for staff and promised jobs to workers through November, whether or not Mr. Bloomberg stays in the race. The candidate now has 1,000 campaign staffers.

It’s a big part of the reason roughly $20 billion is expected to be spent on political advertising this election cycle, dwarfing the previous record of $12 billion in 2016, according to media research firm, Borrell Associates.

“Everything about what Bloomberg is doing is unprecedented,” said Rufus Gifford, former finance director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Mr. Bloomberg remains a long shot, Mr. Gifford said, “but when you have Donald Trump as president and one of the 10 richest people running for president, anything can happen.”

Late Show

Michael Bloomberg has hugely outspent other presidential candidates, and is focusing on Super Tuesday and later primaries.

Spending on local TV ads

TARGET STATES BY PRIMARY DATE

Bloomberg

$177.2M

Feb. 3

Iowa

Feb. 11

N.H.

Feb. 22 Nev.

Feb. 29 S.C.

March 3

Super Tuesday*

Steyer

March 10 N.D., Wash., Mo.

Miss., Idaho, Mich.

Sanders

Buttigieg

March 17

Fla., Ohio, llI., Ariz.

Warren

Yang

March 19 Ky.

Biden

March 24 Ga.

Klobuchar

April 7 Wis.

Trump

April 28 N.Y., Pa.

Gabbard

Delaney

May 19 Ore.

Patrick

June 2 D.C., N.M.

Bennet

*Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
Notes: Figures include future bookings, which are subject to change; don’t include national and digital ad spending. Data from Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020.

Source: Kantar/CMAG
Ana Rivas/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Kevin Sheekey, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign manager, said there’s more to Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy than his spending, pointing to wealthy but politically inexperienced candidates such as Meg Whitman or Ross Perot who failed in the past. “Money won’t just determine elections,” he said. “You have to have a record and a message.”

Lots of rich people have run for office, lots of candidates have claimed excellent business credentials and many have claimed to have top-flight data operations, which Mr. Bloomberg emphasizes. What sets his campaign apart is his $55 billion checkbook.

Mr. Bloomberg is No. 9 on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, ahead of each of the Google founders, either Koch brother and the wealthiest members of the Walton family. A person familiar with the plans said he could spend $500 million on the primaries alone, and Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t ruled out spending $1 billion before November if needed.

“Certainly it’s going to be disruptive,” said Robert Wolf, former chairman and CEO of UBS Americas and a longtime Democratic donor. “We just don’t know how yet.”

Spending by Mr. Bloomberg, shown in Los Angeles earlier this month, has upended the financial dynamics of the election. PHOTO: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013, is currently supported by 6% of voters, compared with 27% for former Vice President Joe Biden in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. More voters have a negative than a positive view of Mr. Bloomberg, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll from mid-December.

Mr. Bloomberg said he entered the race at a moment when polling data suggested voters placed less importance on ideology and more on finding a candidate who could beat Mr. Trump. His campaign believed Mr. Trump was winning the race and was going unchallenged in political ads in competitive states as Democratic candidates focused on the primary battle.

At the time, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was surging. Polls showed Mr. Biden beating Mr. Trump but within the margin of error. Ms. Warren’s policies, such as a wealth tax, would likely hurt Mr. Bloomberg, and she is generally disliked by his circle of wealthy New Yorkers, according to a longtime staff member. Mr. Bloomberg has said he will back whoever wins the nomination, even if it is Ms. Warren or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Off the Map

Michael Bloomberg, who entered the presidential race just two months ago, has already spent roughly three-quarters of what the rest of the candidates combined have spent on TV, radio and digital ads.

Total ad spending

Bloomberg

$216.8 million

Steyer

143.0

Sanders

26.4

Buttigieg

24.3

Warren

19.8

Biden

11.7

Others

33.4

Trump

50.3

Note: Between Jan. 1, 2019 and Jan. 15, 2020.  Figures include future bookings, which are subject to change.

Source: Kantar/CMAG

To offset criticism that he was running out of his own self interest, Mr. Bloomberg pledged $15 million to $20 million to register 500,000 voters before the election. His attacks on Mr. Trump are part of that effort.

“There’s a sense that Bloomberg is doing something that the party can’t do—going negative on Trump,” Mr. Gifford said. “It’s work that the party doesn’t have the money to do, and other candidates don’t have the ability to do.”

After Mr. Trump’s campaign said it had bought a 60-second TV spot during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, the Bloomberg campaign bought a 60-second spot that will target the president. The Bloomberg campaign declined to disclose how much it was spending for the spot, but advertising tracker Kantar/CMAG estimates it is worth $10 million.

Bloomberg spending has drawn Mr. Trump’s attention. When the campaign aired an ad saying the president had broken his promise of protecting those with pre-existing health conditions, Mr. Trump pushed back on Twitter and labeled Mr. Bloomberg “Mini Mike.”

Facebook ads for Mr. Bloomberg. PHOTO: MIKE BLOOMBERG 2020

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign said that because he started late, it is focusing on the Super Tuesday votes on March 3, rather than the early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. The plan plays to Mr. Bloomberg’s financial advantage and minimizes his weaknesses—shaking hands and making small talk with voters, and giving stump speeches. The Super Tuesday states, where 40% of delegates will be chosen, instead depend more on television and digital advertising.

In addition to huge TV spending—$193 million on ads since his campaign began—the campaign has spent heavily online. It spent $16.1 million on Google ads as of Jan. 11 and $6.8 million on Facebook as of the end of December according to Kantar/CMAG.

Mr. Trump has spent $6.5 million on digital ads, and Tom Steyer, the other billionaire Democratic candidate, has spent $5.6 million since Mr. Bloomberg entered the race in November, as of the end of last year.

The Bloomberg campaign is offering field organizers salaries of $6,000 a month. For state data directors, it’s between $10,000 and $12,000 a month, according to job postings.

The campaign’s 1,000-person payroll is more typical of an operation in the final months before Election Day. Mr. Biden has roughly 400 campaign staffers, while Mr. Sanders has built an 800-person staff.

Spending Strategy Michael Bloomberg vastly outspent hiscompetitors during his campaigns for NewYork City mayor.New York mayoral campaign spendingSource: New York City Campaign Finance BoardNote: Mr. Bloomberg ran as a Republican in 2001 and2005, and as an independent in 2009.
M. BloombergM. GreenF. FerrerW. Thompson200120052009$0 million$25$50$75$100$125

The former mayor’s late entry into the race has forced the campaign to “create a sense of momentum and hope people will actually jump on,” said a person familiar with Mr. Bloomberg’s state operations.

Campaign veterans said money won’t necessarily bring in the best staff and said many experienced staffers want to work for people they support. Other campaigns, including Ms. Warren’s and Mr. Sanders’s, already have operations in Super Tuesday states and are ramping up hiring in later states.

Mr. Bloomberg has spent in markets that haven’t been targeted by other Democrats. His campaign has plunked down $21.2 million on television advertising in Texas, where none of the leading Democrats have spent a penny. It has spent $8.4 million in Pennsylvania, which doesn’t hold its primary until April 28.

It has even poured resources into smaller states that are typically not on the primary radar. In Idaho, it has spent $979,000 so far; in Utah, $1.6 million.

“He is going far, far ahead of where the rest of the guys are scrumming,” said Kip Cassino, executive vice president at Borrell Associates, the media research firm. “He is basically saying, ‘I’m not going to win in Iowa, and I am not going to get out there and kiss pigs. And I won’t win in New Hampshire, but I will win in the rest of the states, and I will get the states that most everyone didn’t care about before.’ ”

Bloomberg Announces 2020 Democratic Presidential Campaign
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Bloomberg Announces 2020 Democratic Presidential Campaign

Bloomberg Announces 2020 Democratic Presidential Campaign
“I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America,” Mr. Bloomberg said when he announced his candidacy. Photo: YANA PASKOVA/GETTY IMAGES

At the beginning of January, candidates had spent close to $540 million on political ads in the presidential race over the prior 12 months, about 10 times what would have been expected at this point in this election cycle, Mr. Cassino said.

“We have never seen anything like this,” Mr. Cassino said, referring to Mr. Bloomberg’s spending. “We are only just starting to see how distorting this might be.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s potential handicaps among Democratic voters include his support for Republican candidates in the past, including former President George W. Bush. Other issues that could hurt are his support for charter schools in his education-reform efforts, and the stop-and-frisk policy he adopted as mayor, in which New York police had wide latitude to detain and search passersby for contraband. A federal judge eventually ruled the policy violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Mr. Bloomberg apologized for the stop-and-frisk policy before he kicked off his campaign.

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Some Democrats fear Mr. Bloomberg could drag out the primary with his limitless budget, or use his money to try to influence the leading candidates, hoping to pull some of them to the political center, which he sees as the way to beat Mr. Trump.

Mr. Bloomberg’s team said the data operation he is building will benefit Democrats overall, which he said are far behind the Republicans on the gathering and use of voter data. His data firm, Hawkfish LLC, launched in the spring. It has hired Facebook’s former chief marketing officer and the former CEO of Foursquare, the location tracking firm.

As New York mayor, Mr. Bloomberg announced an operation in 2012 to reduce the sale of illegal firearms. PHOTO: JOHN MINCHILLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mr. Bloomberg has cited his research and spending on the 2018 midterm elections as evidence of his commitment to the party’s success. Democratic candidates won 21 of the 24 races in which he was involved. In most races, the spending focused on digital advertising early in the election cycle and TV advertising closer to election day, when ad reservations were more expensive and Republican groups could not as easily counter their message.

In an Oklahoma House of Representatives race, which appeared to be a long-shot for the Democrats, Mr. Bloomberg unleashed a wave of last-minute ads that attacked the Republican candidate. Democrat Kendra Horn won by a few thousand votes.

“I supported 24 candidates who were good on guns and good on environment, and 21 of them won, and that flipped the House,” he said at a recent campaign stop in Philadelphia. “So if it wasn’t for that, you wouldn’t have Pelosi and you wouldn’t have impeachment.”