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An under-the-radar startup funded by billionaire Eric Schmidt has become a major technology vendor for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, underscoring the bonds between Silicon Valley and Democratic politics.
The Groundwork, according to Democratic campaign operatives and technologists, is part of efforts by Schmidt—the executive chairman of Google parent-company Alphabet—to ensure that Clinton has the engineering talent needed to win the election. And it is one of a series of quiet investments by Schmidt that recognize how modern political campaigns are run, with data analytics and digital outreach as vital ingredients that allow candidates to find, court, and turn out critical voter blocs.
But campaigns—lacking stock options and long-term job security—find it hard to attract the elite engineering talent that Facebook, Google, and countless startups rely on. That’s also part of the problem that Schmidt and the Groundwork are helping Clinton’s team to solve.
The Groundwork is one of the Clinton campaign’s biggest vendors, billing it for more than $177,000 in the second quarter of 2015, according to federal filings. Yet many political operatives know little about it. Its website consists entirely of a grey-on-black triangle logo that suggests “the digital roots of change” while also looking vaguely like the Illuminati symbol:
“We’re not trying to obfuscate anything, we’re just trying to keep our heads down and do stuff,” says Michael Slaby, who runs the Groundwork. He was the chief technology officer for president Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, a top digital executive for Obama 2012, and the former chief technology strategist for TomorrowVentures, Schmidt’s angel investment fund.
He explained that the Groundwork and its parent company, Chicago-based Timshel—which according to its website is named for a Hebrew word meaning “you may” and is devoted to “helping humanity solve our most difficult social, civic, and humanitarian challenges”—are “all one project, with the same backers,” whom he declined to name.
Research Credit: HP