Politics

Mike Bloomberg's tech firm Hawkfish struggles to sign clients as coronavirus changes 2020 landscape

Key Points
  • Billionaire and former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's tech firm Hawkfish has been struggling to rack up political clients six months before this fall's elections. 
  • Some of the organizations that have had talks with Hawkfish are trying to determine how the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated the American economy, will weigh on their budgets. 
  • Others are still deciding how the relatively new company could help them in such a short period of time.
Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, speaks to media after touring the Wind Technology program at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, December 4, 2018. 
KC McGinnis | Reuters

Billionaire and former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's tech firm Hawkfish has been struggling to rack up clients six months before this fall's elections. 

Some of the organizations that have had talks with Hawkfish are trying to determine how the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated the American economy, will weigh on their budgets. Others are still deciding how the relatively new company could help them in such a short period of time as most groups already have in-house digital aides or contracts with similar vendors. 

The coronavirus has forced campaigns off the trail and into conducting their operations through virtual outreach. Outside entities, which often conduct grassroots door-knocking campaigns on top of their often expansive digital campaigns, are putting more of a focus on web-based efforts. 

A representative for Hawkfish, who asked not to be named in this story, said they are still aiming to use their resources to help overtake President Donald Trump and Republicans come November. 

"Hawkfish was created to help give Democrats the digital advantage that's crucially needed to beat Donald Trump and Republicans in 2020 and beyond," a Hawkfish spokesperson said. "We're committed to working with Democratic candidates, allies and causes to reach the right voters with the right messages in the right places. From climate change to gun safety, voter access, women's rights, education, health care and more, we're focused on the issues that matter most to the Democratic Party." 

This representative declined to comment on any current or future clients. 

Voto Latino, a nonprofit that focuses heavily on digital engagement to encourage young Latino voter participation, recently held virtual talks with Hawkfish. The sides are discussing a short-term, five-figure test investment that would allow Hawkfish to fight for a chance to work with them for a longer period of time.  

Hawkfish, created in 2019, became the primary digital ad agency for Bloomberg's presidential bid. It crafted ads that mainly targeted Trump and received $60 million from Bloomberg's entirely self funded campaign. Bloomberg, who has a net worth of close to $58 billion, finished spending just over $1 billion on his campaign. He ended up winning 55 delegates, including a victory in the American Samoa caucuses on Super Tuesday.  The former New York mayor dropped out of the race in March and has since endorsed former vice president Joe Biden. 

Biden's campaign, as of early this week, has yet to officially decide whether it will hire Hawkfish, according to people familiar with the matter, who declined to be named as these decisions are being made in private. The Biden campaign is on a hiring spree that involves recruiting digital advisors who worked for the candidate's previous primary opponents. Biden's campaign is still determining whether to hire Hawkfish or at least two other digital vendors that are competing for a general election contract. 

The Democratic Governors Association, a group dedicated to helping Democrats win their gubernatorial races, has decided it will have no immediate plans to sign Hawkfish, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC. Hawkfish representatives pitched the DGA earlier this year while Bloomberg was running for president, this person said. The DGA instead is keeping an eye on its own budget during the pandemic, the person said. The group is also going to continue, at least for now, to focus their digital work through an in-house team like they have done since 2019, this person added. 

Bluegrass Values, an independent organization that was backed by the DGA during the 2019 governors race in Kentucky, paid Hawkfish just over $165,000 for their services, according to data collected by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics. Though it's unclear what the tech firm did for Bluegrass, the group crafted ads backing Andy Beshear's successful race for the state's governors office. 

When We All Vote, a nonprofit organization dedicated to voter turnout and founded by former First Lady Michelle Obama, hasn't decided whether to hire Hawkfish or any other potential new vendor, according to another person with direct knowledge of the matter. The Intercept previously reported that the group was being pitched by Bloomberg's company and that they had done previous work for the Obama led group during a Virginia state legislative race. This person noted to CNBC that they haven't had follow up discussions with Hawkfish since at least March. 

Co-chairs for When We All Vote include celebrities Tom Hanks, Selena Gomez, Lin Manuel Miranda and Chris Paul.

A spokesman for DGA declined to comment. A representative for When We All vote did not return a request for comment. 

Hawkfish recently pitched its services to Voto Latino, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that's dedicated to ramping up young Latino voter participation in the 2020 election, the group's founder told CNBC. Bloomberg donated $500,000 to Voto Latino two months ago. 

Maria Teresa Kumar, the group's founding president, said in an interview that the virtual pitch took place close to two weeks ago between their organization and leaders of Hawkfish. They were left impressed, especially with the amount of consumer data files Hawkfish has on hand in the wake of Bloomberg's run for president. The group is open to possibly working with Hawkfish later this cycle.

"What was interesting about Hawkfish is that they have all these consumer data points and that would let us better explore our targeted voters," Kumar said on Wednesday.  She has previously told CNBC they are looking to take aim at Latino voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. 

Hawkfish's leadership ranks include longtime Facebook Chief Marketing Officer Gary Briggs, and Jeff Glueck, former CEO of location-tracking firm Foursquare.

Voto Latino's Kumar said it is discussing with Hawkfish what she described as a "test investment," in which the firm could be paid up to $30,000 to see if it has the ability to enhance the voting group's already strong digital outreach program. The competition for a test like this is fierce, especially when, as Kumar said, the group sometimes has five or six tests going on simultaneously.  

Voto Latino, like other organizations that have not signed Hawkfish, already has a digital team in place, including preferred outside vendors. In the case of Kumar's  nonprofit, she said its vendor is Rising Tide Interactive, a group that's run by alumni of various congressional campaigns and helps their clients build digital ads and assist in get out of the vote efforts, among other initiatives. It recently spent just under $200,000 on a voter registration app titled VoterPal.

VIDEO3:0503:05
Bloomberg develops a secret data weapon called 'Hawkfish'