Joe Biden's presidential campaign, in a bid to broaden its appeal with younger voters and small donors, has turned to a data science software and consulting company backed by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, CNBC has learned.
The firm, Civis Analytics, has been advising Biden's team on how to better connect with young voters online and improve its appeal to donors who give $200 and less, according to those familiar with the matter. Civis, which was founded in 2013 by former President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign analytics chief, Dan Wagner, has also suggested potential digital hires for Biden's 2020 campaign, these people added.
Schmidt, who backed Obama, is part of a host committee for a May fundraiser for Biden at the Los Angeles home of James Costos, the former U.S. ambassador to Spain under Obama. Federal Election Commission records show Schmidt has donated at least $2,800 to Sen. Cory Booker's campaign for president. He has backed Republicans, as well. People close to Schmidt insist he has not participated in consulting for Biden or any 2020 Democrat that has hired Civis.
"Eric has not endorsed any candidate and is not working with any campaign right now. He is a board of member of Civis- which is providing these types of services for all types of Democratic candidates," one person said on the condition of anonymity.
Federal Election Commission records show former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke $9,000), Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($9,500) and Booker ($19,000) paid Civis during the first quarter of 2019 for a range of tasks, including research consulting and database services.
During the 2018 congressional midterm elections, Democratic super PACs paid Civis hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Senate Majority PAC, which is dedicated to helping Democrats win their respective Senate races, spent $2.2 million, while the House Majority PAC, a committee backing candidates for the House of Representatives, paid Civis $418,000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee gave $185,000 to the company.
Last November, Democrats retook the majority in the House while losing some seats in the Senate.
Representatives for Civis, the Biden campaign and Google declined to comment. Schmidt, through a spokesman, also declined to comment.
Schmidt is a technical advisor at Google's parent company, Alphabet, and has a net worth of $14.3 billion, according to Forbes. Schmidt was Alphabet's executive chairman from 2015 through 2017.
He also had strong ties to Obama when he was president. Schmidt visited the White House 18 times from 2009 to 2015, according to data collected by the nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability. Four of those meetings were with Obama himself. In 2012, he donated $35,800 to Obama's joint fundraising committee, the Obama Victory Fund.
Going into Biden's 2020 run, his supporters privately warned him that he needed to improve his online presence if he wanted to overtake other candidates who had more experience appealing to young voters through social media.
Biden then met with an executive from Twitter and spoke with Athan Stephanopoulos, president of NowThis News, which specializes in viral short-form videos — and helped raise the national profile of O'Rourke when he ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, CNBC previously reported.
Since then, Biden's campaign has hired at least one digital advisor. PJ Alampi, a former director of accounts at multi-channel network Fullscreen Inc., recently became the campaign's head of digital strategy. Alampi was also was a social media strategist at Epic Signal, a digital marketing company, according to his LinkedIn page.
During the first week of his campaign, Biden's team spent $406,860 on Facebook ads, according to data compiled by the social media companies' Ad Library Report. In contrast, President Donald Trump's joint fundraising committee, Make America Great Again, invested just over $159,000 on Facebook ads during the same time period.