A nondisclosure agreement utilized by the campaign of Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire CEO of Bloomberg LP and former New York mayor now running for president, contains language that could prevent staffers from reporting workplace abuse.
The NDA totals nine pages and forbids employees from discussing “any and all non-public information” and “activities” by the campaign.
And while it’s understandable that a campaign would want to keep things like internal polling under wraps, transparency advocates say that the NDA is overly broad to the point of preventing sexual harassment, as well as other forms of workplace abuse like racial discrimination, from being reported.
Even when the campaign ends, it may be difficult for the public to learn what happened since, unlike many NDAs, this one does not expire.
Jordan Libowitz, spokesperson for the nonpartisan government ethics and accountability group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, found the NDA troubling. “The thing that jumped out at me was the non-disparagement clause, which the Trump campaign used in 2016,” Libowitz said. “That can have a chilling effect on people reporting abuses and speaking publicly about things like sexual harassment.”
“This is much longer and deeper than anything I’ve seen before and it raises some issues, not just this specifically but some of these more in-depth NDAs campaigns are using,” Libowitz added. “This seems like it’s written for some major corporation like Google trying to prevent people from going to Amazon. This seems pretty far outside the lines of how campaigns tend to act.”
The NDA was provided to The Nation by a Bloomberg campaign employee who requested anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson said in an e-mailed comment that “this document only covers the campaign’s strategies and plans; it doesn’t prevent anyone from speaking out about harassment. We can’t speak for other campaigns or workplaces, but legal agreements that protect proprietary information are incredibly common and sensible.”
Bloomberg has some familiarity with allegations of sexual harassment. Nearly 40 harassment and discrimination lawsuits from 64 different employees have been filed against him and Bloomberg LP, which Bloomberg founded and owns a majority stake in, according to a report by Business Insider. Three lawsuits are ongoing. (Bloomberg has denied allegations that he oversaw a toxic workplace culture.)
Although the NDA does make an exception for information legally required by a court or governmental authority, Libowitz cautioned that this still wouldn’t cover many cases of workplace abuse, which often do not make it to a court.
“While the clause doesn’t cover disclosures required under law, it does work to keep people from talking about what are frankly often abuses, workplace behaviors that happen on campaigns,” Libowitz said.
The Bloomberg campaign’s NDA is infamous among staffers, several of whom commented on how long and detailed it is. “The NDA section was absolutely bonkers,” one Bloomberg staffer told The Nation.
“It [the NDA] does make people paranoid,” another staffer said. “I mean I’ve had coworkers joke about having no rights.”
While the Bloomberg campaign’s NDA may be more exhaustive than those used by the campaign’s rivals, the use of such agreements has increased in recent years across the board, along with public awareness—and criticism—of the practice. In December, an advocacy group founded by three prominent former Fox News employees, all of whom were women, released an open letter calling for an end to NDAs.
“These NDAs are a driving force in silencing workers and promulgating a culture where employers are able to cover up toxicity, including issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, rather than address it and end it,” their letter stated.
Bloomberg has been using confidentiality agreements since long before the campaign. In January, he personally refused to release several women who had sued him from these agreements.
“They’re legal agreements, and for all I know the other side wouldn’t want to get out of it,” Bloomberg reportedly said. (ABC News subsequently reported that several of the women involved expressed interest in telling their stories.)
Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized Bloomberg’s decision at the time, saying that NDAs are “a way for people to hide bad things they’ve done.” “Women should be able to speak…. if Michael Bloomberg made comments like this, then he has to answer for them,” Warren said.
Pete Buttigieg, on his part, cited an NDA as his initial reason for refusing to disclose the nature of his work with McKinsey & Company. Following the criticism, McKinsey released Buttigieg from the NDA and he disclosed what he said was a summary of his work.
What did the two-and-a-half years of work he was so hesitant to disclose include? Energy efficiency research, grocery pricing for an unidentified client in Canada, and, to quote the campaign, working with a “health insurance provider…identifying savings in administration and overhead costs.”
A copy of the Bloomberg campaign NDA may be found here.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a comment from the Bloomberg campaign.