Former New York City mayor, billionaire, and longshot presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg—who is definitely, totally not just a clueless rich guy running a widely unpopular vanity campaign—is pouring a considerable portion of his gratuitous wealth into a digital advertising firm he founded this year, CNBC reported.
The existence of the company, Hawkfish, has previously not been publicly reported, according to CNBC, even as its made hires from tech giants including former Facebook chief marketing officer Gary Briggs and former Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck. Hawkfish apparently incorporated in Spring 2019 and worked on unspecified races in Virginia and Kentucky, where Democrats respectively won control of the state house and the governorship in November. CNBC wrote that campaign officials say Bloomberg created the company, which is now handling all of his digital ads, before he intended to run for president.
Hawkfish doesn’t show up in federal or state election databases and CNBC wasn’t even able to determine where it is officially based, though it reported some are working out of Bloomberg’s campaign headquarters and a few staffers are on loan from the candidate’s company, Bloomberg LP.
CNBC wrote that the stated intent behind Hawkfish is to counter a perceived GOP advantage in online outreach and fundraising, though as of right now it mostly seems to be a vehicle for his personal ambitions. Between his campaign announcement in November and last Friday, Bloomberg had flooded Facebook and Google (and their subsidiaries Instagram and YouTube) with an eyebrow-raising $24 million in ad buys, and he claims he will spend over $100 million in total. As of last Friday, Donald Trump had spent roughly $31.6 million on the same platforms in 2019.
The massive ad buys haven’t bought Bloomberg a lead in the race (and his policy of funding his campaign from his estimated $54 billion net wealth has meant his absence from debate stages). One recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that despite also spending over $76 million on TV ads, Bloomberg has barely budged in the primary race, rising from three percent at the time of his announcement to around five percent. A recent New York Times profile emphasized that Bloomberg’s 2001 rise to the mayorship, which the candidate has insisted was an example of savvy, data-fueled campaigning, was in reality greatly helped along by a series of unpredictable events such as the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Julie Wood told CNBC that Hawkfish will be the “primary digital agency and technology services provider for the campaign” and “is now providing digital ad services, including content creation, ad placement and analytics.” She added that the firm will also work with other Democratic candidates in future elections.
CNBC noted that while it is “unusual” for a presidential candidate to have founded one of his own campaign vendors, Common Cause vice president of policy and litigation Paul S. Ryan told the network that it likely wasn’t in violation of Federal Elections Commission policy.
“I would say nothing shows a red flag as far as a violation,” Ryan told CNBC. “If he sincerely had not made up his mind to run when he made this company to help Democrats, it’s fine. Going forward, the campaign would have to pay fair market value to the company in goods that he’s receiving.”