Bloomberg waves after speaking at a campaign event Thursday in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
His supporters, though, tout the deep and positive impact of his work. Danson said in a Facebook message last week that Bloomberg has "the strongest track record on climate change and will do the most to fight it." Bloomberg's foundation between 2014 and 2018 gave more than $32 million to the group Oceana, which focuses on protecting the world's oceans. Danson and another Bloomberg endorser, the actor Sam Waterston, sit on Oceana's board.
The AP review documented $1.65 billion in grants that Bloomberg's New York-based Bloomberg Family Foundation doled out to hundreds of cities, universities, cultural groups and global institutions from 2014 through 2018, the last year in which they have been itemized in tax filings.
From Boston to Baltimore and Anchorage to Arlington, the money has helped fight climate change, championed a range of public health initiatives, promoted new programs in cities and schools and helped scores of arts and cultural institutions stay open.
The foundation's annual grant spending tripled between 2014 and 2018, when it reached $445 million.
That sum is only a portion of the total given by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which encompasses all of the former mayor's giving: through his foundation, his company and personally. Bloomberg Philanthropies has said that from 2014 through 2018, it distributed more than $2.9 billion. More than $1 billion of that remains unknown to the public because only gifts that go through his foundation are required to be disclosed.
EX-GOLDMAN CHIEF SNIPES BACK AT BERNIE SANDERS WALL STREET HATE
Then there's the record $3.3 billion that Bloomberg Philanthropies says it distributed in 2019. His campaign says most of the increase can be attributed to a $1.8 billion gift to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, for financial aid and new investments to fight climate change and youth tobacco use. But those gifts aren't legally required to be even partially disclosed until after the election.
During Wednesday's debate, when asked why he hasn't released his tax returns, Bloomberg noted that the biggest item on them "is all the money I give away. And we list that, every single donation I make, and you can get that from our foundation anytime you want."
In response to questions from the AP after the debate, his campaign said "there will be more clarity" on the billions in donations since 2014 that he has yet to detail once his taxes are released.
Bloomberg said he would soon release his tax returns, but his campaign hasn't said whether it will also divulge his previously undisclosed donations.
Using publicly available information, the AP identified dozens of current and former mayors who have publicly endorsed Bloomberg's campaign after benefiting in one of several ways from his charitable giving. At least 20 attended the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a one-year training program for municipal leaders that his foundation sponsors.
Several others have led cities that have received programming grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies or, in at least two cases, been paid to work as an adviser or board member.
Nutter has been a high-profile surrogate for Bloomberg's campaign as its national political chair, defending him against allegations of racism that stem from the stop-and-frisk policy in New York that disproportionately targeted young black men.
Nutter's consulting firm was paid $45,000 in January by the campaign and is owed $4,000 more, according to a campaign disclosure. Nutter had previously been a paid adviser for What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative that promotes municipal innovation.
Dozens of Bloomberg's employees have moved from the philanthropies to the campaign, which said its endorsements were totally separate from grant funding.
Bloomberg's campaign said only a small percentage of mayors whose cities he has helped are supporting him. Kenney, for instance, has campaigned for Warren.
"But if an elected official has seen up close how hard Mike works to find solutions to America's toughest problems and thinks that's exactly what we need in the White House, we think that's a pretty good reason to support someone," spokeswoman Rachel Nagler said.
The AP's review tracked more than $150 million that Bloomberg gave to dozens of candidates for state and federal office and political groups since 2014.
That money helped Democrats take control of the U.S. House in 2018, pass laws and referendums requiring universal background checks on gun sales in key states and advocate for higher soda and tobacco taxes in some cities and states.
His spending soared in the 2018 midterm elections to a high of $110 million — an investment that he credits with helping install Nancy Pelosi as House speaker and leading to Trump's impeachment.
Bloomberg's super PAC in 2018 spent millions running ads praising Democratic candidates and attacking their Republican opponents, helping win 21 of 24 races that it got involved in. At least 16 Democratic members of Congress have endorsed Bloomberg for president, including four whose candidacies were direct beneficiaries of his PAC spending.
Several others indirectly benefited from Bloomberg's generosity because their campaigns were supported by one or more of the key Democratic Party-aligned groups to which he gave tens of millions of dollars. Those groups include Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters and Vote Vets.
LIKE A MACHINE
Bloomberg's spending has continued in the early weeks of his presidential campaign. He gave $10 million to a group supporting the House Democrats, $5 million to a voting rights group led by Stacey Abrams, who nearly won the Georgia governor's race in 2018, and smaller donations to several state Democratic Party groups.
"He's like a new machine. Rather than based in the party, it's based on his immense and vast wealth," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor who studies voting behavior and politics at Baruch College in New York City.
He said Bloomberg has long targeted his philanthropic and political giving so that it hits "sources of influence" who are ideologically compatible with his centrist, data-driven approach and key policy initiatives.
That playbook, Muzzio said, dates back to Bloomberg's 12 years as New York mayor, when his donations to community groups helped blunt the impact of city budget cuts, boosted his support and neutralized potential opposition.
"The reality is that I constantly heard from friends, and normal Democrats, 'Oh, sorry, Mark, what can I do? He gave my organization $100,000,'" said Mark Green, a Democrat whom Bloomberg defeated in the 2001 mayoral election.
In 2008, as Bloomberg was pushing to extend New York's term limits so he could run for a third term, he was able to gather support from nonprofit groups, such as the Doe Fund, a group that helps the homeless, that had benefited from his personal fortune. The measure passed the city council, and Bloomberg went on to win for a third time.
Campaign spokeswoman Nagler denied that Bloomberg used his money when he was mayor to gather support or quiet opposition, "and we are not doing it now."
Bloomberg has not only increased his giving dramatically since then, he has invested heavily in nationwide grassroots groups that can pressure lawmakers and run advocacy campaigns.
Among the most potent is Everytown for Gun Safety, whose scores of activists have pushed to tighten gun laws and elect supportive state and federal lawmakers across the nation.
The group was formed in 2013 as a merger between a group founded by Bloomberg, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which was inspired by the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Bloomberg has given tens of millions of dollars to the group, which is independent but led by one of his former mayoral aides. His presidential campaign spent $3.2 million last year to rent Everytown's email list, and many moms, in their signature red T-shirts, are frequently spotted at his campaign events.
Another Bloomberg investment that has paid dividends for his cause and his campaign is his more than $100 million in contributions to the Sierra Club for its Beyond Coal and Beyond Carbon programs, which it says have closed more than 300 coal plants across the country.
He cites that achievement in campaign ads that do not mention the Sierra Club, which has 3.8 million grassroots supporters and is among the most important environmental groups active in politics.
The group's executive director, Michael Brune, told the AP the money has had a huge impact on its work, allowing it to expand and meet its goals more quickly. Bloomberg's campaign asked for an endorsement from the Sierra Club, but Brune said they didn't feel pressured. The group, he said, is not likely to make an endorsement in the Democratic primary, in keeping with its longstanding practice.
The campaign against coal did help Bloomberg snag the endorsement of Mellencamp, who is featured in an ad targeting rural voters that has been viewed 6 million times on YouTube in recent weeks. Mellencamp recorded a song for the 2017 coal-focused documentary "From the Ashes," which was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Bloomberg and Donald Trump during 20th Anniversary Gala for Vietnam Veterans at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage) DEFENDING BLOOMBERG
The far-reaching tentacles of Bloomberg's influence were on display at an event in Providence, Rhode Island, this month, when Gov. Gina Raimondo became the first governor to endorse Bloomberg's candidacy.
The room was packed with several of the state's influential Democrats, people wearing red Moms Demand Action shirts, as well as a handful of protesters angry about Bloomberg's record, including stop and frisk.
Raimondo and the state Democratic Party have received thousands of dollars from Bloomberg and his daughter, and groups he gave millions to in 2014 spent more than $1 million to help her win the governor's seat.
After Raimondo introduced him, Bloomberg noted that Johns Hopkins was supporting her administration's public health work, mentioned his investment in a push to register more voters, and noted that his spending helped Democrats win the House in 2018 "so that Nancy Pelosi took over and then she started the impeachment process."
Within days, Raimondo found herself defending Bloomberg against old allegations of sexist remarks at his company, saying he has changed his behavior and has a record of giving to causes that help women.
Melissa Jenkins, a Moms Demand Action volunteer who attended the Providence event, said she was considering voting for him, in part due to his giving to causes she cares about.
"He's a self-made billionaire, and he's used his privilege to help underprivileged people and to help causes that he believes in," Jenkins said after the event.
Other politicians grateful for prior financial support and hopeful for future funding have joined Bloomberg at events.
He launched his campaign in Virginia, where his spending helped Democrats defeat two Republican incumbents in House races in 2018 and last year win majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Key to the latter effort was more than $2.5 million spent by Everytown and the Beyond Carbon Action Fund supporting Democrats in key races.
"Mayor Bloomberg has been a steady force here in the commonwealth and he has never, ever, said no to us," said former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Bloomberg was a featured speaker at the Virginia Democrats' annual fundraising dinner earlier this month, and gave the state party $50,000 the day before he spoke.
After being sworn in last month, Virginia lawmakers moved swiftly to advance stricter gun laws backed by Everytown, including universal background checks on gun purchases and temporary court-ordered seizures of guns from owners exhibiting troubling behaviors.
Republicans accused Democrats of being beholden to Bloomberg, and the NRA put his face on a billboard next to the interstate warning that he wanted to confiscate guns. Bloomberg is hoping to win the state's primary next week.
In Pennsylvania, which has its primary in April, Bloomberg has wielded his influence for years for politicians of both parties in a state that Trump narrowly carried in his upset 2016 election victory.
Bloomberg's super PAC, Independence USA, spent $6 million supporting Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's narrow 2016 reelection win over Democrat Katie McGinty. The money funded ads praising Toomey as a man of integrity who tried to strengthen gun laws after the school shooting in Newtown.
For any other Democrat, helping a Republican opponent win a crucial race might be a deal-breaker. But before and after his support for Toomey, Bloomberg has showered state Democrats' campaigns, party organizations and causes they support with donations that appear to have mended fences.
Bloomberg's foundation last year announced a $10 million grant to help Pennsylvania battle the opioid crisis. That donation was hailed as a potential "turning point in our efforts" by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has received $350,000 in campaign donations from Bloomberg since 2014.
Everytown recently announced that it would spend heavily this year if necessary to support the reelection of Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has used his office to battle gun violence in Philadelphia and beyond in ways that activists praise as innovative. Shapiro's 2016 campaign received $250,000 from Bloomberg.
Also on this November's ballot: state Treasurer Joe Torsella, the former CEO of the National Constitution Center, who received the $50,000 donation from Bloomberg in 2016.
"He has definitely put a lot of chips on this table — all over the place," said former Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn. "Let's see if he can cash in."
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