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Object-lesson in ruling class privilege? Democrats ditch donor threshold for primary debates so Bloomberg can participate

Object-lesson in ruling class privilege? Democrats ditch donor threshold for primary debates so Bloomberg can participate
The Democratic National Committee is loosening its debate qualifying criteria, opening the door to billionaire establishment darling Michael Bloomberg and angering candidates that had been excluded from prior events.

The same DNC that has held fast to its rules while one candidate after another complained about the seemingly arbitrary means of deciding which polls would count toward a qualifying threshold has opted to discard its individual donor requirement starting with the February debate. The rule had prevented former New York Mayor and billionaire media mogul Bloomberg from joining the previous forums.

The polling threshold has also been doubled, meaning qualifying candidates must earn at least 10 percent in four polls taken between January 15 and February 18, or 12 percent in two polls conducted in Nevada or South Carolina, the second two states to hold primaries. Winning a delegate in one of the first two states – Iowa or New Hampshire – will also send a candidate to the debate.

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Bloomberg did not even file paperwork to run in Nevada, reportedly focusing his strategy on the 14 states holding their contests on Super Tuesday, March 3. It remains to be seen whether his strategy of blanketing voters in those states with advertisements will translate into success at the ballot box, but so far he has dumped $217 million on TV and digital advertising – three quarters of the entirety of election spending by all candidates, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Bloomberg, who has reportedly spent over $110 million on anti-Trump attack ads alone, has vowed not to take donations from other individuals, instead reaching into his own $50 billion fortune to prove his independence from “special interests.”

This has had the added benefit of insulating him from scrutiny afforded to other candidates – such as calls to release his tax returns. Bloomberg has not appeared with other candidates at issue forums or town halls, and the writers at his eponymous news site have been barred from covering his campaign.

The DNC justified the change by explaining that a donor threshold was no longer necessary to prove a candidate had grassroots support with “real voting” results from two states available before the debate. Given that Bloomberg has been accused of lacking exactly that grassroots support, Democrats are split over whether they approve of dragging him out into the limelight.

“To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong,” Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Vermont Senator (and strident Bloomberg critic) Bernie Sanders, complained to Politico on Friday.

“Now, suddenly because Mr. Bloomberg couldn’t satisfy one of the prongs, we see it get changed?”

That’s the definition of a rigged system where the rich can buy their way in, many progressive activists have argued on social media.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has repeatedly challenged the DNC’s debate criteria, only to be ignored. At one point, the party was refusing to count 24 of the 26 polls in which Gabbard exceeded the threshold, and would not explain its criteria for selection.

Other candidates, such as Senator Cory Booker (D- New Jersey) and former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro, have dropped out of the race in recent months after failing to qualify for debates.

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Having Bloomberg in the debates may not go so well for him, however. In his few ventures before the public eye, he has not exactly done well – with apologies for positions he held and policies he pursued while the mayor of New York City, such as “stop and frisk” and surveillance of Muslims, ringing hollow and insincere.

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