Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is using a previously unknown company he started for his campaign’s digital ads, adding another angle to concerns about the many ways tech and social media companies may be secretly influencing elections.
The existence of the company, known as Hawkfish, came to light this week when CNBC asked the campaign for details. Hawkfish has no public website, and it’s not clear where the company is based, CNBC reported. PitchBook lists only the sparest of details on the company, and notes that Mike Bloomberg is the primary contact.
Critics on both sides of the political aisle are warning that tech and social media companies may exert influence in elections next year. Such influence moved into the spotlight last year when news broke that data from 87 million Facebook profiles were sold without users’ consent to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which may have used the information to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Since then, Facebook and other social media have also come under attack for not doing enough to combat the threat posed by people looking to confuse voters with misinformation.
Bloomberg’s founding of Hawkfish doesn’t appear to violate campaign finance laws, Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told CNBC. The campaign does need to pay fair market value for the services that Hawkfish provides, he said.
Hawkfish worked on behalf of Democrats in state races in Virginia and Kentucky this year, CNBC said. Democrats won control of the Virginia statehouse last month, while the Democratic candidate for Kentucky governor upset the incumbent Republican.
“Democrats are leveraging their digital advantage to win elections,” reads an opinion column on the conservative website Townhall.com. Bloomberg “is pouring some of his unfathomable wealth into this digital push for other Democratic candidates, and this could have a terrible impact on the 2020 elections.”
- The Bloomberg campaign told CNBC that Hawkfish is the“primary digital agency and technology services provider for the campaign,” and that it’s “providing digital ad services, including content creation, ad placement and analytics” for their campaign. The spokeswoman said it will also help other Democratic races across the country in future election cycles.
- Bloomberg has said he is willing to spend more than $100 million on digital anti-Trump ads. The campaign declined to tell CNBC how much he invested in Hawkfish.