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Ireland in CHAOS: Who will be the next taoiseach as Leo Varadkar steps down?

On Thursday evening, attempts in the Dáil to elect a new taoiseach ended in tatters after voting fractured along party lines. Ireland’s parliament was attempting to elect a new prime minister after this month’s general election failed to produce a majority for any party.

There were four nominations for the post, including Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald, nominated by Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan were also nominated by their respective parties.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald had the highest number of votes in her favour, with 45, but a majority would require 80.

Micheál Martin polled 41 votes, while Mr Varadkar received 31 votes, and Eamon Ryan was left with 12 votes in his favour.

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So what next?

Following the failure to choose a new taoiseach, the Dáil will be suspended for about a fortnight to allow negotiations on government formation to continue.

Mr Varadkar will continue as caretaker taoiseach until negotiations have completed.

He and the previous government will remain in place until a new government can be formed. 

Speaking after the result, Mr Varadkar said: “The responsibility is now on all of us to make sure we provide good government and indeed good opposition.”

In 2016, it took parties 70 days to agree a government structure, and things are looking set to be equally difficult now.

Micheál Martin criticised Sinn Féin for taking aim at his party’s policy on not going into government with it.

He said: “Some parties claim that they uniquely represent the people and deny the mandates of other parties.

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“We reject the idea that there is no limit to be set to the compromises that you should take.

“We believe that a new government must also show urgency in relation to Europe and Northern Ireland, as we can all see an enormous amount of work is required in relation to securing Northern Ireland’s special economic status and Dublin must return to being a leader in the work of challenging sectarianism and building reconciliation.”

However, Mary Lou McDonald said this election represented a turning point and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have led every Irish government since the 1930s, were reluctant to give up power.

She said: Change also means that the old order must pass and you see, that’s really what the problem is here.

“Government formation is also about power and who wields it and the reality is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have run the show for almost a century and they’re not minded to let go.”

Ms McDonald also said a vote for her party was not a “protest vote” but a vote for it to be in government.

Eamon Ryan said he respected the mandates that his colleagues from other parties had been given and those who voted for them.

There were demonstrations and celebrations outside the home of the Irish parliament in the hour before the 33rd Dáil sat for the first time, with protestors delivering messages about homelessness, healthcare, and the Middle East.

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Politics

Sturgeon shamed as SNP cuts force councils to fill £95million black hole with tax increase

SNP’s newly installed Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes outlined the Scottish budget for 2020-21 at the beginning of the month. Speaking earlier this week, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell claimed the proposals provided a “fair settlement” for local government, giving councils an increase of revenue spending of up to 4.3 percent in real terms. However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which represents Scotland’s 32 councils, branded the claims misleading, saying the rosy assessment fails to take into account growing demand on services.

While the draft budget for 2020-21 includes an additional £495million for local authorities for day-to-day spending, Cosla claims Scottish ministers have required them to carry out a further £590million worth of policy commitments, meaning a £95million budget shortfall.

Similarly, Cosla claims the £54million of new capital funding in the budget has been negated by £171million worth of Scottish Government commitments, adding up to a £117m cut to core capital budgets, equal to 17 percent.

As a result, a Cosla spokesman said, local authorities are being forced to push council tax bills up by five percent to help cover the shortfall.

Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said the funding settlement, as it stands, would impact on jobs and front-line services.

Speaking ahead of appearing at Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee on Wednesday, she said: “This draft budget will impact on jobs, front-line services and local government’s ability to address inclusive economic growth, child poverty, well-being and climate change, and does not address the growing demand most councils are facing in relation to services.”

She said Cosla had “campaigned hard in recent months for the Scottish Government to address falling local government budgets”, saying the organisation had lobbied ministers on this.

She added: “It is unfortunate that a sphere of government in this country has not been listened to.”

Cosla president Alison Evison said local authorities had already lost the equivalent of 10,000 full-time workers since 2010-11.

She warned: “The impact of this on communities is real and cannot continue.

“We are calling on Scottish Government and the Parliament to address these concerns, listen to our asks and prevent the loss of essential council services which communities rely upon.

“Make no mistake, councils and the services which communities rely upon will be at risk as a result of this budget.”

Speaking today, COSLA Environment and Economy Spokesperson Councillor Steven Heddle said: “Councils campaigned strongly for an increase in funding so that we can continue to develop local economies that provide fair and accessible work opportunities for everyone.

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“Regretfully, the Government has again ignored these warnings and failed to recognise the unique role councils play in growing local economies.

“We are the main employer in almost every local authority in Scotland providing a tenth of Scotland’s workforce. If any other part of the economy was facing the risks we are, the Government would step in.

“When councils have the money to invest in capital projects, the benefits are felt across communities – from training and apprenticeships to support for local supply chains – this year’s Capital Budget will mean these benefits will all be lost.

“Less core revenue funding for economic development support, planning and regulation will also hit communities hard.

“We are calling on the Government and the Parliament to address these concerns, listen to our asks and prevent the loss of essential council services which communities rely upon.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said councils will receive £11.3 billion in funding from the Scottish Government in 2020-21.

“The latest figures show that local government has £1.4 billion held in reserve that can be used at their discretion to support local services.

“Investing in vital public services, ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change and tackling drug-related deaths are at the heart of our spending plans.

“As well as providing a real-terms increase in the local government revenue budget, our spending plans include an additional £500 million low-carbon capital investment and an additional £12.7 million to reduce the harm caused by drugs.”

(Additional reporting by Emily Ferguson)

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Politics

Scores of MPs have put personal costs on their Parliament credit card

Some 100 MPs have put personal costs on their Parliamentary credit card, an investigation has found.

The number is all those who have paid for non-eligible expenses on the taxpayer-funded payment card three or more times since 2010.

Fourteen MPs claimed so much that personal costs made up more than 15% of their card transactions.

Parliament's expenses watchdog said the money was repaid and in many cases had a good explanation – but warned "the few cases of repeated misuse by MPs were not addressed promptly".

It added MPs who used the card for personal costs still benefited, even when they paid the money back, because they were effectively given interest-free credit.


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The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) concluded: "There is little misuse of the payment cards by MPs.

"Charges marked as 'not claimed' amount to only 1.25% of the value of overall transactions; and less than half of this could be considered expenditure on personal costs.

"However, the few cases of repeated misuse by MPs were not addressed promptly.

"As a result, a personal benefit may have been given to the few MPs who used the card for personal costs, in the form of an interest-free period before the costs were recovered."

Expenses rules for MPs ban them from using their IPSA-issued payment card – which is akin to a credit card and has a £4,000 monthly credit limit – for personal costs.

There are some scenarios that are "reasonable", IPSA says – for example, paying for a hotel bill that includes both personal and business costs then splitting it later.

However the IPSA review, published earlier this month, says the policy for dealing with misuse "has been implemented less effectively" than it could have been.

Five MPs have been contacted regarding repeated misuse of the card but no payment cards have been permanently withdrawn.

The report recommended: "IPSA should put processes are in place to enforce its policy effectively so that cards are withdrawn when repeated misuse is identified."

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Politics

Post-Brexit immigration policy: How does the UK points-based system work?

The new immigration policy is based on an Australian style points-based system designed to prioritise high-skilled immigrants. The UK is no longer a member of the European Union and so won’t adhere to the bloc’s rules on immigration from 2021

How does the UK points-based system work?

Free movement to and from EU countries will end on January 1, 2021, after the transition period has ended.

The Government said it wants to switch the economy’s focus away from “a reliance on cheap labour from Europe”.

It will instead concentrate on investing in workers in the technology and automation sectors.

Under the new system, immigrants will need to meet certain criteria to earn the 70 points qualifying them for application.

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In the policy document explaining the new system, the Home Office announced: “We are ending free movement and will introduce an Immigration Bill to bring in a firm and fair points-based system that will attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services.

“We intend to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy.

“We will deliver a system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK and prioritises the skills a person has to offer, not where they come from.

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The first thing immigrants will need to do is meet the three essential requirements.

If they fail to tick the boxes of the three criteria they cannot apply.

These requirements are a job offer by an approved sponsor (worth 20 points), a job at an appropriate skill level (worth 20 points), and the ability to speak English at the required level (worth 10 points).

These are deemed by the Government to be “untradeable”.

“For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people.

“Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly-skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK and make a contribution to our economy and society.

“Our approach will change all of this. We are implementing a new system that will transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family.

“It will also revolutionise the operation of the UK border, tighten security and deliver a better customer experience for those coming to the UK.”

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If an applicant can match the untradeable requirements, they need to add another 20 points to reach the 70-point threshold.

The “tradeable” criteria set out in the policy document can be used to reach 70 points.

A job with a salary of between a minimum £20,480 and £23,039 does not earn any immigration points.

A salary between £23,040 and £25,599 is worth 10 points, while a salary of £25,600 or above is worth 20 points.

Job in a shortage occupation (decided by the Migration Advisory Committee) is worth 20 points.

If an applicant has a PhD in a subject relevant to the job, then they receive 10 points.

A PhD in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject relevant to the job earns an applicant 20 points.

The Immigration Bill policy means the UK will be closed to non-skilled workers.

The Bill also means the Government won’t allow for self-employed people to enter the UK without a job.

The right of musicians, artists, entertainers and sportsmen and women to enter for auditions, performances and competitions will stay as is.

Border control won’t accept ID cards from countries such as France and Italy.

The new system lowers the skills threshold for foreign nationals wanting to work in the UK will be lowered from degree to A-levels or their equivalent.

The cap on the numbers of skilled workers is being scrapped and a small number of highly skilled workers will be allowed to come in without a job.

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Labour leadership election odds: Who will win? A look at the three candidates

The Labour Party is in the process of electing its new leader after the opposition saw its worst electoral defeat since 1935. Voting for wider party members opens on February 24, with the winner to be announced on April 4.

Who will win?

While the outcome is still to be determined, a look at opinion polls and odds usually give a good indication of who’s leading the race.

Three candidates remain: shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Keir looks set to win the top job but an upset isn’t out of the question. Read on for a look at all three candidates, with odds courtesy of The Pools.

Sir Kier Starmer

Odds: Polling as most likely to take the job, with 1/8 odds (88.5 percent)

Who is he?

Sir Keir was born in 1962 in Southwark, London, to his parents Rod – a toolmaker, and Josephine – a nurse.

Named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie, he was one of four children and the first to pass the 11-plus, getting him a place at Reigate Grammar School.

From there, he went on to study law at the University of Leeds, graduating with a first in 1985, before moving onto post-graduate qualifications at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

He married solicitor Victoria Alexander in 2007 and the couple have two children.

Candidacy:

The 57-year-old shadow Brexit secretary was the first to make it on to the final ballot.

Sir Kier won the backing of Unison, the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, and the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (Sera), an affiliate group, and workers’ union Community.

A supporter of remaining in the EU, Sir Keir was director of public prosecutions before becoming MP for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015.

But critics have accused him of pushing Labour into its “renegotiate then referendum” Brexit position ahead of the 2019 election, which produced the worst electoral defeat since 1935.

In his candidate statement, Sir Kier said: “I’m now standing to be leader of our Labour Party because I’m determined to unite our movement, take on the Tories and build a better future.

“Labour only wins when we’re united and when we have a radical vision of the future that people can trust.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey

Odds: Polling as second most likely to take the job, with 7/1 odds (12.5 percent)

Who is she?

Mrs Long-Bailey was born in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, in 1979.

Her father was a former docker and she has often spoken about how his experiences influenced her politics.

She started work in a pawn shop and also worked in call centres, a furniture factory and the post service.

Mrs Long-Bailey studied politics and sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, and later studied law via part-time courses.

Her husband Stephen works for a chemicals company and they have a six-year-old son.

Candidacy:

The 40-year-old shadow business secretary was the third candidate to make it on to the members’ ballot after securing backing from Unite, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, the Communication Workers Union and the Fire Brigades Union.

Seen as a Corbyn loyalist, she was one of a new generation of MPs on the left of the party.

She formed part of Mr Corbyn’s inner circle and represented Labour in an election TV debate last year.

She is widely regarded as the preferred candidate of Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

But critics of the current leadership have accused her of representing “continuity Corbyn”.

In her candidate statement, Mrs Long-Bailey said: “To realise collective aspiration, Labour must take on vested interests, not accommodate them.

“Whether we live Blyth or Brixton, my vision of aspirational socialism and a democratic revolution will excite a movement for renewal.”

Lisa Nandy

Odds: Polling as least likely to take the job, with 12/1 odds (7.69 percent)

Who is she?

Ms Nandy was born in 1979 in Manchester to Louise and Dipak Nandy.

Her grandfather was the Liberal MP for North Dorset in the 1940s, and she has described her father as “one of the few remaining” Marxists in the country.

She attended the mixed comprehensive Parrs Wood High School before moving to Holy Cross College in Bury.

From there, she went on to study politics at Newcastle University, followed by a master’s degree in public policy from Birkbeck, University of London.

Her partner is public relations consultant Andy Collis and in April 2015 they had a son.

Candidacy:

The 40-year-old MP for Wigan became the second candidate to secure her place on the members’ ballot when she won the backing of affiliate group Chinese for Labour, on top of being backed by the GMB union and the National Union of Mineworkers.

On Friday, she also won the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Ms Nandy worked in the charitable sector before entering politics in 2010, and became one of a group of shadow ministers who resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench after the Brexit referendum.

She has become known for her support of smaller towns, saying the party needs to appeal to voters outside big cities if it is to win at the next election.

In her candidate statement, Ms Nandy said: “In December, voters sent us a clear message – change, or die.

“There are no more second chances for Labour.”

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Trump moans at Korea’s Parasite Oscar win and demands film that isn’t foreign

Donald Trump has moaned about a film from South Korea winning best picture at the Oscars – despite having apparently not actually seen it.

The US President mocked blockbuster success Parasite by sarcastically telling a rally "I thought it was best foreign film!"

"Can we get, like, Gone With the Wind back, please?" he added, hailing a film set on a slave plantation to cheers at a the event in Colorado.

Neon, the North American distributor of Parasite, responded to the president.

"Understandable, he can't read," the company's official Twitter account said.

Critics accused the President of outright racism, especially given his pointed choice of film.

Actor and writer John Fugelsang tweeted: "He praised Gone With The Wind, film about how happy the slaves were during the wonderful – and tragically extinct – Confederacy during Black History Month. Trump's so racist."

Actor Marsha Warfield added: "Dude is straight up cray cray. And, a racist." Twitter user Timothy Burke added: "Trump complains that South Korean films are winning Oscars and that we need more like "Gone With The Wind," a movie that even in 1939 was recognized as being racist as hell."

Director Bong Joon-Ho's searing commentary on class struggle made history at the Academy Awards this month when it became the first foreign language film to win the top prize.


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On a memorable night, Parasite also earned Bong best director and won both best original screenplay and best international feature.

However, Mr Trump was not impressed and bemoaned the film's success during a

"How bad were the Academy Awards this year?" the president asked, prompting boos from the crowd.

"The winner is – a movie from South Korea! What the hell was that all about?

"We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of that, they give him best movie of the year? Was it good? I don't know. Let's get Gone With The Wind. Can we get, like, Gone With the Wind back, please?

"Sunset Boulevard? So many great movies."

Mr Trump added: "Did this ever happen before?"


The president also aimed a barb at Brad Pitt, who mentioned Mr Trump's impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech.

"And then you have Brad Pitt," Mr Trump said. "I was never a big fan of his. He got up, said a little wise guy thing. He's a little wise guy."

Parasite is one of the most acclaimed films of recent years.

Bong's satirical dark comedy veers wildly between different genres as it tells the story of an unscrupulous poor family's often hilarious attempts to embed themselves inside the home of a rich family.

It moves from comedy to horror before building up to a gruesome conclusion.

Parasite was a popular choice for best picture at the Oscars, winning ahead of Sam Mendes's well-fancied war epic 1917.

Bong addressed the issue of Western audiences being reluctant to watch foreign language films during his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

"Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films," he said after winning the best foreign film award.

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Businessman Steyer pumps $64.7 million of own funds into U.S. presidential bid in January

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Businessman Tom Steyer poured $64.7 million of his own wealth in January into his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination, for a total spend of $267 million, a campaign finance disclosure showed on Thursday.

Steyer’s spending is of historic proportion, but is dwarfed by that of rival candidate billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who pumped $220.6 million of his own funds into his bid the same month, for a total of $409 million since launching his campaign in November.

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Joe Biden's campaign raised $8.9 million in January, ended month with $7.1 million cash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden raised $8.9 million in January, ending the month with $7.1 million in cash, an improvement after he struggled at times last year to raise money.

Biden out-raised rival former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who raised $6 million during the same time, but was vastly out-raised by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who raised $25 million in January.

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Bloomberg seeks reset after rough debate debut as Democrats sprint to Super Tuesday

WASHINGTON/LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contenders began a frantic dash for votes on Thursday, as big-spending billionaire Michael Bloomberg sought to move past a bruising debate debut and several of his rivals jockeyed to be the moderate alternative to liberal front-runner Bernie Sanders.

There are just two days to go before the presidential caucuses in Nevada. Afterward, contests loom in South Carolina, followed by Super Tuesday on March 3, when voters cast ballots in 14 states, including California, Utah, Colorado and Texas.

The blistering attacks against Bloomberg on Wednesday night over his record on race, history of sexist comments and use of his fortune to push his way up in opinion polls – could damage his argument that he has the best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

The former New York mayor, who entered the race late and will not be on primary ballots until Super Tuesday, has tried to position himself as a moderate alternative to Sanders, a senator and self-described democratic socialist. Bloomberg spent $220.6 million on his candidacy in January and $409 million to date.

Bloomberg’s campaign moved to stem the fallout early on Thursday by announcing endorsements from members of Congress from New York, New Jersey and California, after saying on Wednesday night he was “just warming up.”

In a nod to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s charge that Democrats nominating Bloomberg to challenge Trump would be exchanging “one arrogant billionaire for another,” he told a rally in Utah: “We could not be more different; I bill myself as the un-Trump.”

“Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump,” Bloomberg added.

Warren, who landed early jabs during the debate related to Bloomberg’s use of nondisclosure agreements for women at his company to settle lawsuits and his support while mayor of stop-and-frisk policing policies that ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos, remained on the offensive.

“I have really had it with billionaires … who think their money buys them something special, so they can call women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,’ that when somebody complains, throw a little money on it, and then put a gag in a woman’s mouth,” Warren said while campaigning in North Las Vegas.

Bloomberg said at the debate there were “very few” nondisclosure agreements and “none of them accuse me of anything.” He said they were made consensually with the expectation they would stay private.

RISING STAKES

Wednesday’s was the most-watched of the nine Democratic presidential debates so far this cycle, with about 20 million tuning in on NBC and MSNBC and 13.5 million on streaming platforms, the networks said.

For Warren, it was an opportunity to try to steady her campaign after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Her campaign said it set fundraising records by bringing in $425,000 during the first hour of the debate and $2.8 million over the course of the day.

Democratic strategist Ian Sams, who worked on Senator Kamala Harris’ former presidential campaign, said Warren’s performance showed she “will not be going quietly into the night” and the money will keep her competitive through Super Tuesday.

Sanders, whose campaign said it raised a record $2.7 million on Wednesday, also faced some incoming fire on Wednesday night. But the debate did not settle the question of which moderate candidate is best-suited to take him on, strategists said.

“When you are the front-runner, and no one does anything to stop you, it’s a good night,” said Tad Devine, a former adviser to Sanders, who worked on the now-shuttered Andrew Yang campaign.

It “raises the stakes enormously,” however, for Bloomberg, who is blanketing states with advertisements but has yet to show he can engage directly with voters and the media, Devine said.

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign warned in a strategy memo early on Thursday that Sanders must be stopped before he amasses an “insurmountable delegate lead,” arguing that Bloomberg’s performance showed he was ill-equipped to do so.

Initial results from the Iowa caucuses, the nation’s first nominating contest, gave Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a one-delegate lead over Sanders. The two rivals won an equal number of delegates from the second contest in New Hampshire, although Sanders got more votes overall.

Nevada’s caucuses will be the third contest in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump. South Carolina holds its primary on Feb. 29. Sanders leads most recent opinion polls in both states.

Buttigieg has a town hall meeting and a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles. Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, a onetime front-runner, campaigned in Nevada and will participate in CNN town halls. Senator Amy Klobuchar is in Colorado.

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Bloomberg presidential campaign reports $409 million in total spending so far

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s campaign spent $409 million through January, with most of the money funding a TV advertising blitz, according to campaign disclosures filed on Thursday.

The spending, reported in a disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission, showed outlays at historic levels for the early stages of the nomination contest to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November election.

The campaign spent about $221 million in January alone.

Bloomberg, a billionaire former mayor of New York who is self-financing his campaign, received a withering assault from other Democratic candidates at a debate on Wednesday, including accusations he is trying to buy the election.

Bloomberg contends his money will help defeat Trump. He has offered to spend from his personal fortune to help Democrats win the election even if he is not the eventual candidate.

After only entering the contest in November, he has been rising in public opinion polls despite not competing in early nomination contests, hoping instead to start winning delegates when 14 states hold contests on March 3.

At the same time, Bloomberg faces increasing scrutiny over past comments perceived as sexist and his past support of policies seen as racially discriminatory. He has apologized for a policing policy he employed as mayor of America’s largest city that ensnared blacks and Latinos disproportionately. He has also said he regretted telling “bawdy” jokes.

Bloomberg’s campaign spent $126.5 million on television advertising alone in January, and another $45.5 million on digital advertising. That brought total ad spending by his campaign so far to $312 million, according to figures released by the campaign.

Bloomberg is worth an estimated $60 billion and his campaign could report even higher spending in the future. On Feb. 4, a day after the Iowa nomination contest in which rival candidate Joe Biden performed poorly, Bloomberg said he would immediately double spending on his already massive national TV ad campaign.

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