Invite-only: How one Hill aide is turning his political connections into a business

Exclusive newsletter was the start of something more

Michael Hardaway, center, is pictured behind his boss, Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, on Sept. 25, 2019.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Michael Hardaway, center, is pictured behind his boss, Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, on Sept. 25, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 1, 2020 at 6:30am

Ask Michael Hardaway to sign you up for his Sunday evening newsletter, and he’ll probably say no. His own parents aren’t even on the list.

That kind of thinking has served him well in the world of politics, and now he’s hoping it will help him launch a startup in an already crowded field.

At first Hardaway was just doing a favor for some friends, he says. The 39-year-old has spent the last six years on Capitol Hill, working as communications director and senior adviser for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries. Before that, he moved in the orbit of Barack Obama, staffing his presidential campaign and raising money for the Democratic National Committee. 

Along the way, he met a fair number of CEOs, and they got in touch again in 2016 after Donald Trump won the White House. They were confused.

“There was just an ocean of disinformation, and in that ocean, all these guys were drowning. And so I put this document together as a life raft,” Hardaway says of the email newsletter he started.

The newsletter is invite-only, and Hardaway keeps details close to the vest. He touts an open rate of 91 percent. 

He won’t say how many people get it or do any name-dropping, but he describes his readers as a bipartisan group of CEOs, congressional lawmakers, diplomats and donors that are 74 percent male, 63 percent age 55 and older and 11 percent billionaires. 

Right around the time of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Hardaway realized the project could turn into something more. 

“Even though they all employ armies of lobbyists and have a bunch of advisers, that was insufficient,” he says. 

Now Hardaway is leaving his job on the Hill to focus on building his company, Hardaway Wire, which launches Oct. 10. While the newsletter will remain free and invite-only — “there will be no way to buy into that,” he insists — he plans to roll out other paid products with the aim of opening a “line of communication” between his CEO and policymaker subscribers.

Washington is practically dripping with political information newsletters and media companies — a “proliferation,” Hardaway acknowledges — but he’s counting on a global perspective to help him stand out. 

While Hardaway declined to share an actual copy of his newsletter, called Snapshot, he says he divides it by continent, with sections for North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and Latin America, as well as slots for a lead item and special feature. It doesn’t hurt that he’s staked his email claim in the relatively quiet realm of Sunday evening, rather than a weekday morning.

As he looks to roll out new products geared toward navigating the post-election environment, Hardaway says “personal interactions and connections between members” will be a selling point. If that makes it sound like an exclusive club, all the better.

Invite-only is kind of Hardaway’s modus operandi. One of the things he’s known for on Capitol Hill is hosting an informal but exclusive bipartisan dinner group, inspired by the steaks and scotch shared by Washington politicos of an earlier era. 

“We met last month, via Zoom, and my goal is to build that series so that it outlives me,” he says. “The bipartisan dinner series shall live forever.”