Dozens of elite business leaders have joined Mike Bloomberg's "army" of surrogates in a bid to help him win the Democratic presidential nomination.
The leaders have signed onto a group called the Committee for Mike, whose organizers call on participants to publicly endorse Bloomberg's campaign, push their networks to vote for him, appear at events and potentially attend briefings with Bloomberg himself, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Several of the people in the surrogate program have known Bloomberg for years. Former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, for instance, is on the Bloomberg Philanthropies board of directors. Bloomberg once called former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, another member of the program, a "friend" in a 2013 interview with New York Magazine. CNBC acquired a partial list of surrogates from these people, who declined to be named due to the decisions having been made in private.
Since Bloomberg, who has a net worth of about $60 billion, is self-funding his campaign, the support from these business leaders could take money off the board for other Democratic candidates. Some of these supporters have donated to rival campaigns, such as former Vice President Joe Biden's and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg's.
"I am fully committed to Mike," Mack told CNBC. Mack was on a guest list for a fundraising event featuring former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday but he noted he did not go to the gathering because of his support for Bloomberg.
The development comes as Bloomberg surges in polls while one-time front-runner Biden sinks. Since Bloomberg jumped into the primary race in November, he has jumped from seventh place to third, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average.
Meanwhile, Biden has dropped into second behind Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. He is seeking to rebound with decisive wins in Nevada and South Carolina, which hold their nominating contests later this month. Bloomberg himself won't be on any state ballot until Super Tuesday, March 3, when delegate-rich states like Texas and California hold their primaries.
Others in the Bloomberg surrogate group include Susan Rockefeller, Loews CEO James Tisch, BET co-founder Sheila Johnson and Ariel Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson, who is married to "Star Wars" creator George Lucas.
John Rogers, the other CEO of Ariel, is also part of the organization and has publicly acknowledged that he is supporting Bloomberg after he previously backed Sen. Kamala Harris, who withdrew from the race in December. Rogers reportedly attended a Bloomberg rally in Chicago in early February as the billionaire former New York mayor opened campaign offices throughout the state. Beth Dozoretz, a former campaign aide to Hillary Clinton who was also once finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, is also part of the program.
Committee member Gilbert Garcia, a managing partner at a Texas-based asset management firm, said he first got to know Bloomberg at a 2015 New York award ceremony where he, Bloomberg and other business leaders were honored for their work helping young people develop a career on Wall Street. Garcia explained in an interview that the committee was the equivalent to Bloomberg's "ground troops" who "are going to be the one out there, in the day to day trenches for him."
"I've been listening to the calls, I talk to a lot of the senior staff and at the end of the day, when he is in Dallas, I call my contacts to go show. When he is going to Houston, I tell my contacts to go," he said. "This committee is essentially his army and they are all top-notch players."
Garcia added he believes Bloomberg has the best chance to beat President Donald Trump out of all the other Democratic primary contenders.
A spokeswoman for the Bloomberg campaign declined to comment. The other business leaders mentioned in this story either did not return a request for comment or could not be reached.
The Committee for Mike development also comes as Bloomberg racks up endorsements from leaders across the country.
This support includes backing from black leaders like Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia, Gregory Meeks of New York and Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, as well as multiple black mayors. Bloomberg has received increased scrutiny for his role in enforcing a controversial policy known as stop and frisk. It allowed the New York Police Department to randomly stop, search and frisk people. People in black and Latino communities were most routinely targeted. Bloomberg apologized for the policy before he announced his presidential run.
Bloomberg, a group of fundraising consultants that he recently hired and other campaign aides have been meeting with various community and business leaders to convince them that the former New York mayor has the best chance at winning the Democratic primary and arguing they should join the group.
The meetings appear to have a been a success. Chenault's wife was at a December gathering with some of New York's wealthiest Democratic donors. Bloomberg called on participants to support his campaign without them writing a check and to start giving to the DNC, which has often been heavily outraised by the Republican National Committee.