Bernie Sanders Campaign Co-Chair Calls Bloomberg an 'Oligarch' Ahead of Iowa Caucus Results

A heated discussion took place on MSNBC Monday, after an official with the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders labelled fellow candidate Mike Bloomberg an "oligarch" ahead of Iowa caucus results.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who serves as the Sanders campaign's co-chair, about Bloomberg financing his campaign with his own fortune rather than relying on donors. Turner responded by suggesting Bloomberg's actions were shameful, insisting that the former New York City mayor met the description of an oligarch who was trying to "buy" his way into the Democratic nomination

"We should be ashamed of that as Americans, people who believe in democracy, that the oligarchs... if you have more money you can buy your way [into the nomination]," said Turner.

A seemingly surprised Matthews then asked Turner to confirm that she believes Bloomberg is an oligarch, typically defined as a member of a small and often very rich group of people who control government.

"He is," said Turner. "He skipped Iowa. Iowans should be insulted. Not going to New Hampshire, buying his way into this race. Period. The DNC changed the rules, they didn't change it for Senator Harris. They wouldn't change it for Senator Booker, they didn't change it for Secretary Castro."

Turner was referring to the rules change for the February 19 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, which the DNC announced Friday. Candidates were previously required to meet at minimum number of individual donors in order to qualify for the debate. The new rules eliminate that requirement, instead relying on polling thresholds.

The change was widely seen as beneficial to Bloomberg in particular, with the Sanders campaign calling it symptomatic of a "rigged system." Matthews asked Turner if she believed Bloomberg may have bought his way into the upcoming debate.

"Absolutely he did, and it is a stain on democracy," said Turner. "Money can't buy you [love], but it can get you a whole lot of likes. But the way that Bernie Sanders is going to win this election is by building a grassroots movement, and that is exactly what he's done."

Nina Turner
Bernie Sanders campaign Co-Chair Nina Turner at a Sanders event in Iowa City, Iowa on February 2, 2020. KEREM YUCEL/AFP/Getty

Sanders is outperforming the Democratic field in donations, as well as number of individual donors. The campaign says millions of donations have been made, with contributions averaging around $18.

MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson challenged Turner's statements about Bloomberg a few minutes later, taking issue with the label in particular.

"Calling Mike Bloomberg an oligarch has implications in this country that I think are unfair and unreasonable," said Johnson. "Mike Bloomberg is just a rich guy. America is full of rich guys. And just because you're rich doesn't mean that you're an oligarch who abuses his power."

Turner responded by that saying she found it "ironic" that Johnson would "defend the wealthiest people in this country over the working people of this country." She added that she believes campaign finance reform is needed to prevent people from "buying" their way into political office, while suggesting the word "elite" as an alternate label for Bloomberg.

"Maybe Jason likes the word 'elite' over 'oligarch,'" Turner said. "Cry me a river for the wealthy people of this country."

The discussion ended on an especially heated note, with Johnson and Turner often talking over each other. Johnson insisted that Turner was engaging in "name calling," while Turner chided him for allegedly defending "elites" like Bloomberg.

Although results of the caucus were not yet announced when the exchange was broadcast, Turner predicted victory for Sanders.