Billionaire Michael Bloomberg will drop out of blue sky into the thick of the Democratic primary race tonight when he joins the rest of the field on the debate stage in Las Vegas.
Bloomberg—a media mogul, former New York City mayor, and former Republican—has already spent copious amounts of cash on both social media and television ads, seeking to overpower Donald Trump on his own platforms of choice.
There are plenty of reasons for tech-industry employees, most of whom are progressives, to dislike Bloomberg. He’ll be attacked onstage tonight for things such as his “stop and frisk” policy and reports of lewd and sexist comments to and about women. But Bloomberg—himself a major tech investor—has attracted support from venture-capital types such as Chamath Palihapitiya. And Big Tech companies may find some reasons to look past any reservations they may have about his candidacy.
Antitrust fever is alive and well in Washington—at least where tech companies are concerned. The Department of Justice, which announced new antitrust investigations into Big Tech last summer, recently said it’s staffing up on attorneys in its D.C. and San Francisco offices to accelerate the work.
Of all the Democratic candidates, Bloomberg has come out the strongest against breaking up Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Amazon.
“Breaking things up just to be nasty is not an answer,” Bloomberg told The Mercury News last month. “You’ve got to have a good reason and how it would work, and I don’t hear that from anybody.”
Pete Buttigieg has said breaking up big tech companies should be one of a “spectrum” of regulatory options on the table but has expressed doubt about whether politicians should make the decisions. Elizabeth Warren made tech antitrust a central issue in the primary, with her plan to break up companies that act both as platform providers and as sellers on those platforms. Bernie Sanders has more recently come out in favor of breaking up big tech companies.
“I don’t think they know what they’re talking about,” Bloomberg said of Warren and Sanders in his Mercury News interview.
Big Tech benefited handsomely from the 2017 Trump tax cuts. Companies saw their corporate income tax rate drop from 35% to 21%. Big tech businesses such as Apple and Amazon have used some of that windfall to build new facilities and add U.S. jobs, though they’ve also spent money on stock buybacks and investor dividends. For the government, the lost revenue has contributed to a skyrocketing national debt of more than 22 trillion dollars.
Bloomberg favors raising the corporate income tax, but not back to pre-tax-cut levels. He proposes upping the rate from 21% to 28%. Amy Klobuchar favors a new rate of 25%. Joe Biden also proposes 28% and wants a 15% minimum tax that would prevent big tech companies such as Facebook and Amazon from using accounting methods to pay effectively zero income tax.
Bloomberg says he wants to go big on broadband. Big Tech certainly likes the idea of spending tax dollars to upgrade and extend the networks that distribute their services.
Bloomberg says in his infrastructure proposal that he would “expand broadband access to 10 million more Americans by 2025, and to all by 2030.” Warren has proposed spending $85 billion on broadband. Amy Klobuchar has the most aggressive plan, pledging to connect every American household to broadband by 2022 if she’s elected.
Not that all of Bloomberg’s views will sit well with all big tech companies. He takes a pronounced leftward slant on labor issues. Since tech companies use very high numbers of contract workers, it may be most interested in Bloomberg’s plan to “grant all workers—including gig, contract, and franchise employees—the right to organize and bargain collectively.” He also advocates a federal $15 per hour minimum wage, adjusted for inflation.
These issues likely won’t get much time on the debate stage tonight. But they will factor heavily into how much support Bloomberg can expect from Big Tech if he becomes the nominee. Some of Bloomberg’s digital staffers, as Recode‘s Theodore Schliefer reported, recently held a conference call with tech leaders asking them to help supply the campaign with expertise on data science, ad tech, and analytics.
If voters decide that Bloomberg, despite his faults, is the party’s best (and safest) bet to defeat Trump, Big Tech’s support or nonsupport could make a big difference. Bloomberg may not need the Valley’s money, but he desperately needs their people to help him spend his campaign money wisely.