In the scramble to make up for Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the Democratic primary by spending gobs his own money, the billionaire’s campaign engaged in some suspect labor practices, according to an investigation by the Intercept. The campaign hired a call-center company, ProCom, to do phone outreach, and used incarcerated people in at least one prison in Oklahoma to reach out to California voters on behalf of the former New York mayor.
According to an anonymous source that spoke with the Intercept, “People incarcerated at the Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, a minimum-security women’s prison with a capacity of more than 900, were making calls to California on behalf of Bloomberg. The people were required to end their calls by disclosing that the calls were paid for by the Bloomberg campaign. They did not disclose, however, that they were calling from behind bars.”
“We didn’t know about this, and we never would have allowed it if we had,” said Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Julie Wood. “We don’t believe in this practice, and we’ve now ended our relationship with the subcontractor in question.” The campaign states that its contract with ProCom was terminated on Monday, the day before the Intercept published its report. Though the Department of Correction monthly maximum for incarcerated workers tops out at $27.09, a ProCom co-founder claimed, “Some of them are making that much every day.”
At least Bloomberg won’t go down as the first campaign to employ prison labor in a federal election: In 1994, Republican Jack Metcalf also employed prisoners to call up potential voters in his successful bid for Washington’s Second Congressional District. But Bloomberg may soon grab another dubious first, as he has the potential to shatter Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s 2018 self-financing record of $161.5 million. In the first three weeks after announcing his candidacy, Bloomberg has spent around $120 million, which Politico notes is more than double the combined ad spending of all the non-billionaire Democratic candidates in 2019.