Democrats announce new debate rules likely to allow Bloomberg to join


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic Party on Friday announced new rules around how presidential hopefuls can qualify to take part in debates, changes likely to allow billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg to join the stage in February.

Starting with the debate on Feb. 19 in Nevada, candidates who want to participate will no longer have to demonstrate grassroots support by collecting donations from thousands of donors, according to a press release from the party.

Bloomberg is funding his campaign entirely with his own money, estimated at $60 billion, meaning that while he has climbed in the polls, he could not qualify for debates under the old rules.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together,” Bloomberg campaign Manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

A late entry to the competition to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November, Bloomberg contributed more than $200 million from his own fortune to his bid as of the end of 2019, according to disclosures his campaign filed on Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

He has continued to pump millions of dollars into the campaign in January, including blanketing national airwaves with political ads.

While he trails front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in public opinion polls, his level of support is rising.

Democratic rivals have complained that Bloomberg is trying to buy the election, and some quickly condemned the changes to the debate qualification requirements.

“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. That’s the definition of a rigged system,” Jeff Weaver, a senior advisor for Sanders’ campaign, said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Michael Martina; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall