Politics

A Bloomberg-backed ‘tech co’ is building campaign tools for the left and right

The stealthy firm, which has been buying political tech firms for more than a year, is backed by Emma Bloomberg's philanthropic group.

Colourful overlapping silhouettes of people voting in USA elections

The new firm, called Tech co., is backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter, Emma Bloomberg.

Image: Clayton Cardinalli

A new company backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter Emma Bloomberg has been quietly buying political tech firms and going on a hiring spree, as it seeks to create a digital organizing platform that operates "outside of a traditional 'Red/Blue' partisan paradigm."

Neither the existence of the firm, called simply Tech co. for now, nor its high-profile funder have been previously reported, though it's been up and running for at least a year. But a spate of recent job listings seeking data scientists, behavioral scientists and engineers have circulated through the insular political tech whisper mill, sparking curiosity as the startup prepares to emerge from stealth mode this spring.

"Tech co. believes that a more equitable world will be built by people with organizing superpowers. To achieve this vision, we are building one seamless, intuitive, and intelligent platform that integrates data, tools, and experiences to give anyone those superpowers," reads one job listing for chief technology officer. The position describes Tech co. as building "a variety of technologies, from mobile apps to enterprise software tools."

According to four sources familiar with the company, Tech co. grew out of Emma Bloomberg's philanthropic firm Murmuration, a nonprofit dedicated to public education reform. Murmuration declined to comment for this story, but in a May 2020 podcast interview, its vice president of communications Brian Reich said, "We provide data and analytics and strategic support to organizations working to improve public education in this country."

In the interview, Reich said Murmuration wanted to give local campaigns that have the potential to impact public education the same access to sophisticated data analysis tools that national campaigns have. "It's very rare that you see an integrated platform or intelligent data being used in advocacy campaigns and municipal-level races," Reich said.

Tech co. appears to have broader ambitions than just education reform. "Tech co. is the non-education specific version of the same thing," one source familiar with the company's plans said. The source said the company wants to use its philanthropic funding not just to build and acquire products, but to invest heavily in research and experimentation that will inform its tools. One job listing from October sought a behavioral scientist capable of designing randomized controlled trials.

What makes Tech co. unique among most political or advocacy firms — but perhaps fitting for a Bloomberg-backed outfit — is the fact that it's recruiting and acquiring from both the left and the right. In 2019, Murmuration acquired a data analytics and CRM software firm called Crowdskout, which worked with the Republican National Committee before the 2018 midterms. But it also bought a company called Organizer, which built a canvassing app backed in part by Democratic mega-donor and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. Now, both of those tools are part of Tech co.

"Tech co. is building on the foundation of products including Organizer, Crowdskout, and other existing tools and products," one job listing reads. "We are building capabilities that live beyond a 4-year election cycle, and outside of a traditional 'Red/Blue' partisan paradigm."

Another listing described Tech co.'s clients as "organizations engaged in political and social advocacy" that work "on a multi-partisan basis."

More recently, following the 2020 election, Tech co. also acquired Tuesday Company, a firm that spun out of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and made a tech-based organizing app called Team. Tuesday Company's CEO Michael Luciani wouldn't confirm that Tech co. was the buyer, but in an email to Protocol, he said the company changed ownership at the end of 2020 and is continuing operations. "We were purchased by an issue advocacy group, and they are using our relational organizing tech to strengthen their ability to build communities," Luciani said.

The party-blind nature of this work is unusual. Political vendors, both in the digital space and outside of it, have historically operated on opposite sides of a firewall, rarely taking on clients in competing parties. Intra-party rifts between challengers and incumbents have at times created awkward dynamics for companies selling their services even within a single party.

"My understanding is it's definitely non-partisan, but it's Bloomberg-y, so, pretty progressive," said one Democratic digital strategist familiar with the company's work.

Tech co. has recently been hiring aggressively from both the private sector and the insular world of political tech. The company's CEO, Evan Burfield, previously ran a political tech incubator called 1776 in Washington. Another top executive, Dan McSwain, worked on President Obama's 2008 digital team. The company has also lured talent away from some of the biggest players in the Democratic data space, including BlueLabs Analytics.

Tech co. is certainly not the first company to try to create an all-in-one tech platform for campaigns and advocacy groups. It's not even the first to do it with the support of a mega-rich donor. Before the 2016 election, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt invested in a similar firm, called The Groundwork, which also tried to build a one-stop-shop for digital organizers large and small. It landed some work with the Clinton campaign, but shortly after the election, its funding dried up, and it went out of business.

More recently, Alloy, a Reid Hoffman-backed political data firm that wanted to give progressive advocacy and voter registration groups access to better data, also closed up shop. And then there was Hawkfish, the Michael Bloomberg-backed data firm that worked on the former New York City mayor's presidential campaign in 2020, before shutting down earlier this year. Sources familiar with Tech co. say the company is not related to Hawkfish.

"If we've learned nothing else from this last year, and particularly if Bloomberg learned nothing else from this last year, it's that no donor, no matter how rich, is going to fund something indefinitely," the Democratic digital operative said.

Tech co. may have advantages that those firms did not. For one thing, its acquisition strategy means it already owns a suite of tools that campaigns and organizations on both sides of the aisle have used. That could help the company avoid being seen as just another Big Tech interloper, a reputation other recent digital and data firms have found difficult to shake. Sources say the company is also hoping that its deep-pocketed philanthropic funding could help it overcome one of the biggest challenges that political tech firms face: the fact that elections only come around every few years. In between, companies still need to survive.
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