Billionaires spending millions of own wealth running for president

If you’re a billionaire running for president, you can put your money where your mouth is. 

That’s what Donald Trump did when he spent $66 million of his own wealth on the 2016 campaign. Now, in the 2020 race, Democratic billionaire hopefuls Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg will likely spend much more than that. 

Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, was a late entry into the race. He is reportedly the world’s 14th-richest man, with an estimated net worth of $58 billion. 

But political observers wonder how he fits into the race. 

“The challenge is for someone like Michael Bloomberg, I don’t know if a billionaire Democratic candidate who is so closely tied to Wall Street is going to play well with a very anti-corporate Democratic progressive base,” said Matt Klink, a GOP strategist. 

“He’s apparently in the race and he’s got more money to spend than everybody combined and doesn’t even have to fund-raise at all,” said Hal Dash, a Democratic strategist. 

Bloomberg has pledged to spend $100 million on ads targeting Trump, while California billionaire Tom Steyer promised $50 million.

Steyer, a former businessman-turned-philanthropist and activist, is worth an estimated $1.6 billion and can also spend his way through the primaries. 

In fact, Steyer has spent the most money this year, followed by Bloomberg and Trump, according to the group Advertising Analytics. 

Looking at the three billionaires’ candidate media spending, Steyer spent $58.4 million, while Bloomberg spent $35 million and Trump spent $33.6 million, data from the analytics group showed. 

The Democratic billionaires have come under fire from some their party’s rivals for trying to buy the presidency. But the influx of cash is soothing anxiety in some corners of the party that Trump, who has repeatedly broken fundraising records, was off to an unprecedented early start in the 2020 advertising wars. 

Some argued that the Democrats’ overwhelming focus on the sprawling presidential primary field allowed the president to burnish a reelection narrative unchallenged ahead of what is expected to be an exceptionally close election.

“It’s safe to say the gap is closing,” said David Brock, who leads several Democratic groups, including American Bridge. “People can breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief that there is a major Democratic response now and that Trump’s spending will be met.”

The money has put Democrats on firmer footing in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona, which will be key to victory in 2020. But it’s unclear how long it will last.

Meanwhile, other 2020 Democratic candidates insist the last thing Americans need is another billionaire in the White House. 

“We are about changing the very fundamental way the priorities of this country,” said Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally. “And I know you see on TV the billionaire class getting a little bit nervous.”

“Today, the question asked in Washington is, where do we set the minimum wage to maximize the profits of giant multi-national corporations?” said Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren at a campaign event. “Well, I don’t want a government that works for giant multi-national corporations. I want one that works for our families.” 

Since Trump took office, many Democrats have celebrated an outpouring of small-dollar online contributions from an energized grassroots base. Some progressives have touted this success as a viable alternative to the party’s historic reliance on wealthy donors, whom they criticize for having outsized influence.

But the reality is both streams of money will be needed against Trump. Particularly before the nominee is chosen, outside groups and the Democratic National Committee — they depend on major donors to finance their efforts — will be handling the lion’s share of general-election work.

The Associated Press and Stringr contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.