inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

Billionaire Bloomberg Tried to Inject Private Money Into Philly’s Election Offices

Three months before Election Day in 2020, an intermediary for Michael Bloomberg reached out to the city of Philadelphia’s election offices offering to provide millions of dollars to help the city staff the election as well as pay for communications and other expenses the city might need.

The former New York City mayor had himself been an entrant in the Democratic contest for the presidential nomination that year, but dropped out in March after the Super Tuesday primaries in early March, endorsing Joe Biden immediately upon his exit from the presidential race.

The finding underscores the nature to which donors were trying — often outside of the public eye — to shower money on elections offices in the runup to the final vote, especially as the pandemic as well as vote-by-mail procedures had roiled standard election plans across the country and the commonwealth.

Amid scrutiny of the flood of private spending in the election’s wake, however, several states including Pennsylvania have banned private grants to election offices, like those made by a Chicago-based nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). State Republicans have argued that the gifts could be used to create a bias intended to favor one candidate or party over another by leveraging turnout in selective locations. Democrats countered that the private funding helped already overwhelmed elections offices deal with the massive complexities proposed by the pandemic, and the anticipated “fall surge” of 2020.

On Aug. 7, Nick Custodio, a deputy commissioner in Philadelphia’s Office of City Commissioners, emailed Stanford politics professor Nate Persily, obviously continuing a conversation that had begun elsewhere. The subject line of the email was simply, “Bloomberg[.]”

“We just finalized our CTCL grant a few hours ago. Do I need to get you the Bloomberg thing tonight or can it wait until tomorrow afternoon?” Custodio wrote to Persily.

As the conversation continued on the following day, Persily wrote, “Can you just send me some bullet points on how much you would want from him and what it would be spent on?”

Hours later, Custodio dashed off a figure of just over $3 million. The first $2 million was dedicated to staffing costs, with another half million allocated each for communications and “mail-in voting consumables.”

Read More: Democratic-leaning counties selectively invited to apply for election grants, emails show

The city did not return a request for comment as to whether it accepted any funds from Bloomberg. Questions sent to email accounts at as well as about what other cities, counties, or states Bloomberg approached for election funding were not returned. Persily also did not respond to requests for comment.

As Custodio alluded, the city had just completed its $10 million grant request to the CTCL, knowing already that the grant was likely going to be completely fulfilled. The grant nearly doubled the city’s election budget.

Besides his work professor at Stanford, Persily is active in the broader political arena, authoring numerous op-eds about elections in places like the Washington Post and New York Times. In 2020, he was also running the “Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project” which included the CTCL as a partner.

His emails to Custodio are also noteworthy because it provides yet another marker showing how closely the CTCL and the Center for Secure and Modern Elections (CSME) were working together on the election grants. At least in Persily’s mind, the two were closely related enough that he conflated them as the same project.

After Custodio noted he had finished writing the CTCL grant, Persily responded, “I understand that the requests for CSME will be fully granted.”

When Custodio informed Persily that Philadelphia hadn’t been in contact with the CSME, Persily said, “Yes — CTCL is working with CSME.”

As Broad + Liberty has previously reported, CSME is not a 501(c)3 nonprofit. It is a project under the vast umbrella of the Arabella network, which the Atlantic magazine called, “The Massive Progressive Dark-Money Group You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Despite the fact that the CSME was a significant driver of the CTCL grants, no news articles or press releases in the months before the election exist explaining the partnership between the two, or informing the public that the CSME was a partner in the grants, raising issues of transparency.

Additionally, CSME was running an operation called the “Cities Project” that seems to be directly linked to the CTCL grants, but for which no online information exists. The only information about the Cities Project has come from government emails obtained through open records requests concerning the CTCL grants, as well as a couple of foundations publicly noting they had made donations to the Cities Project.

While Bloomberg is well known for financing his own political campaigns, the money he spends on other causes is sometimes even more influential, according to a report from the Atlantic in January of 2020.

“In short, the money Bloomberg spent in office helped him to be more popular and successful as mayor than he otherwise would have been. Much of this money can’t be tracked by the usual means of measuring funds in politics: campaign-finance disclosures,” Atlantic journalist  Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote.

“Sometimes the influence of Bloomberg’s money was direct and visible; sometimes it was more subtle. Never was it clearer than during his extension of city term limits. I [Dovere} covered the Bloomberg administration for eight years, and I remember standing outside the handful of show hearings the city council held concerning his term-limits extension in 2008,” Dovere continued.

“The rooms at city hall were packed with people who had never taken an interest in municipal affairs before, but were now showing their support for extending term limits. Why were they there? I kept getting the same answer: Their bosses had told them to come. A few worked for arts organizations and other nonprofits. A few worked for the Doe Fund, which provides an array of services for the city’s homeless. The common thread: Bloomberg checks.”

Philadelphia, meanwhile, is trying to block another Right to Know Law request from Broad + Liberty pertaining to the 2020 CTCL grants by elevating the dispute over the requested emails to Commonwealth Court.

Governor Tom Wolf and other Democrats had denigrated the bill that proposed to ban private money to fund election offices, only to later pass it as part of a larger budget agreement.

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Philly Lawyer George Bochetto Joins GOP Race for U.S. Senate

Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto, who was the Pennsylvania Boxing Commissioner from 1995 to 2002, did not pull any punches against his opponents during a recent interview about his decision to enter the crowded GOP U.S. Senate primary race.

The well-known local attorney is joining a field that includes a celebrity doctor, a former ambassador, a wealthy hedge fund executive, a Montgomery County businessman, and a Fox News commentator—and that’s just on the Republican side. Another large group has also lined up seeking the Democratic nomination.

Bochetto, 69, called Dr. Mehmet Oz “an individual who has gotten rich off selling magic coffee beans to little old ladies on daytime TV.”

Bochetto is putting up $1 million of his own money to launch his campaign. He says he will have enough money to “get my message out.”

“I don’t need to raise $30 million to run a primary campaign,” he said. “And if Oz and (David) McCormick and (Carla) Sands think they can just buy the election, they ought to go talk to Mike Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg, one of the wealthiest men in America, spent millions in a failed bid to win the Democratic presidential primary in 2020.

Bochetto most recently garnered headlines for his defense in court of Philadelphia’s Christopher Columbus statue from those would like to tear it down. He said one reason he is running is to prevent the country from falling to left-wing “woke” mobs.

“I’m all for an Indigenous People’s Day but not canceling Christopher Columbus Day to do it,” said Bochetto. “Why can’t we do both? We have St. Paddy’s Day.”

“I’m running to stand up to these crazy movements that are really tearing down the values and the cultures of our country,” he said.

“The woke mob and the left are truly taking this country on a disastrous course,” said Bochetto. For example, “The murder rates are sky high. We have George Soros-backed DAs who refuse to carry out their oaths of office.”

And since President Joe Biden took office, inflation has gotten out of control.

“Inflation hurts the middle class the most,” he said. “They’re the ones who have to go to the grocery store and buy their food. They’re the ones who have to pay for their own fuel at the filling station. They’re the ones who have to do their own home repairs and pay for them. And the skyrocketing inflation hurts them the most.”

“If we can get a Republican-controlled Senate we can start passing sensible legislation as a group,” he said. “We can start rejecting all these inflationary spending policies that the Biden administration and the Democrats are currently engaged in. Their solution to how to pay for $3.5 trillion in giveaways is to just print more money. Printing more money is highly inflationary. Paying people to stay home instead of working is highly counterproductive, highly inflationary. These are policies that must be rejected,” Bochetto said.

“And we’re only going to reject them if we elect people like myself to go to Washington and take control of the situation and make sure our fundamental values and our fundamental principles of American government are implemented.”

Asked about foreign policy, Bochetto said, “China absolutely represents the greatest existential threat to the United States. And we cannot be electing anybody to the Senate from Pennsylvania who is business partner with the Chinese Communist Party,” (a swipe at McCormick, who has been CEO of Bridgewater Associates, which has investments in Chinese businesses).

Temple University Professor Robin Kolodny, who chairs the political science department, said the large field of candidates with no decisive frontrunner tends to draw more people into the fray.

“As of now, our window for candidates to file petitions to get on the ballot (2,000 signatures) opens on February 15 and closes March 8,” she said. “It is one thing to put out a press release saying you are running.  It is another thing to have all the paperwork in by March 8. Candidates who do not win a major party nomination will still be able to petition to get on the ballot for November as an independent.”

A December poll found Oz 10 points ahead of Fox News commentator Kathy Barnette, who was in second place. However, that poll, by the Trafalgar Group, showed nearly 51 percent of Republican primary voters were undecided.

Kolodny pointed out the last time Republican voters nominated a celebrity it did not end well in the general election. That was in 2006, when Ed Rendell beat Pittsburgh Steelers football legend Lynn Swan and was re-elected governor, with 60 percent of the vote to Swan’s 40 percent.

“Here’s the issue with non-political celebrities: Are those who know them also consistent voters?  It turned out not to be that way for Lynn Swann who invested heavily in advertising on ESPN,” said Kolodny.

Local lawyer and pundit Christine Flowers praised Bochetto.

“Having grown up in the Philadelphia legal community and surrounded, as a child, by legendary lawyers (including my own father Ted Flowers), I have an instinctual sense of what greatness in the profession means,” Flowers said. “To me, there are very few living Philadelphia attorneys who are worthy of the title ‘Philadelphia Lawyer’ in the tradition of Andrew Hamilton, but I have no hesitation in saying that George Bochetto is one of them.

“He took on the City of Philadelphia with its bigoted crusade to silence the Italian American community and rob us of our history, in Columbus,” said Flowers. “He took on all of those who believe that certain cultures and communities can be silenced, at a time when silencing is a popular tactic. And he has been extremely successful. George Bochetto is everything a Philadelphia lawyer should be, and once was.”


Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or