Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire former New York City mayor, has admitted that his 2020 Democratic presidential campaign used prison labor to make phone calls.
The Intercept broke the news on Tuesday. According to the progressive site, the Bloomberg campaign used a third-party vendor to contract with New Jersey-based call center company ProCom, which runs two centers out of Oklahoma state prisons.
A source told The Intercept that inmates at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, a minimum-security women’s prison, made calls for the campaign to California. While the women disclosed to potential voters that they were being paid by the Bloomberg campaign, they did not mention that they were incarcerated, the site reported.
Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Julie Wood confirmed the arrangement to The Intercept. But she said the campaign had not previously been aware of the prisoner’s role and had already cut ties with ProCom.
Later Tuesday, Bloomberg echoed that message on Twitter.
“We only learned about this when the reported called us, but as soon as we discovered which vendor’s subcontractor had done this, we immediately ended our relationship with the company and the people who hired them.” he said. “We do not support this practice and we are making sure our vendors more properly vet their subcontractors moving forward.”
Earlier today, a news outlet accurately reported that a subcontractor for one of our vendors was using prison workers to make phone calls on behalf of my campaign. After learning this, we immediately ended our relationship with that company.
Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/0KJ8y8Iqxj
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) December 24, 2019
The scandal comes as Bloomberg is fighting to overcome a reputation for sexism. Before belatedly entering the 2020 race in November, he apologized to The New York Times for his history of crude comments about women.
“Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong,” said a spokesman, Stu Loeser, who served as Mr. Bloomberg’s City Hall press secretary and is now advising his prospective presidential bid. “He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life.”
Seeking to win over minority and progressive voters, Bloomberg has also repeatedly said sorry for supporting “stop and frisk” during his tenure as mayor.
According to Forbes, Bloomberg is worth more than $55 billion and has donated $8 billion to gun control, climate change and other liberal causes. Although he is skipping the early primary states, his campaign has already spent $76 million on TV ads hired more than 200 staffers in 21 states.
On Monday, CNBC reported that Bloomberg has spent millions to found a secret digital business called Hawkfish, which he plans to use to defeat Trump.
Wood said the firm “is now providing digital ad services, including content creation, ad placement and analytics” for their campaign. It will also help Democratic races across the country in future election cycles, she said.
Newsweek estimated that Bloomberg could ultimately sink billions into his campaign.