May 14, 2024 - Business

Scoop: Conservative operatives pour $1M+ into new Capitol Hill news outlet

Illustration of an elephant trunk holding a smartphone glowing red.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A group of prominent conservative operatives and businesspeople are dishing out more than $1 million to launch a new media company aimed at reaching conservative members of Congress and their staffers, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: The goal is to challenge established outlets covering Capitol Hill, including Punchbowl and Politico, with perspectives and insights that are catered specifically to conservatives.

  • "Their goal is to be the conservative-leaning Punchbowl," said one source who has direct knowledge of the new venture.

State of play: The new outlet, called Washington Reporter, is being launched by Republican political consultants and former Hill staffers Garrett Ventry and Brian Colas, four sources familiar with the effort told Axios.

  • Ventry, a former chief of staff to Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, currently manages his own consultancy and retains congressional Republicans as clients, such as New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Colas, formerly a top aide to Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, also manages his own consultancy in which he retains Cotton as a campaign client.
  • Both co-founders will keep their full-time roles. They plan to hire business executives to help manage the firm's day-to-day operations.
  • Ventry, Colas and the site's backers have deep ties to GOP members and campaigns, which they hope to leverage to gain a leg up on competitors in terms of scoops and insights.

Follow the money: Ventry and Colas are joined by several Republican heavyweights in funding the new site, including Omeed Malik, the financier who backed Tucker Carlson's media venture; Michael Goldfarb, founder of the conservative investigative outlet the Washington Free Beacon; conservative communications consultant Brett O'Donnell; Republican strategist Jonathan Hiler; and Kyle Plotkin, former chief of staff to Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and OnMessage Public Strategies Partner.

  • Malik, the site's biggest backer, is investing through his private investment fund 1789 Capital. Malik is also an investor in the conservative news site the Daily Caller.
  • Several of the site's backers were also part of the group interested in acquiring The Messenger, a now-defunct general news site, for a value of $60 million earlier this year.
  • The site's board includes its co-founders, and its advisory board includes most of its investors.

Zoom in: The site's editorial is being led by Matthew Foldi, a longtime reporter who is well-connected to Republicans on the Hill and in Washington. Foldi has written for several conservative news sites, including the Washington Free Beacon and most recently, the Spectator. (He also ran for Congress last cycle.)

  • "The Washington Reporter will cover the intersection of policy and politics, while giving valuable insights to Hill staff and D.C. insiders. Our team includes former Hill staffers and campaign pros who know exactly what the Hill wants to see and how to speak their language," Foldi said in a statement to Axios, confirming his participation.
  • The outlet will launch its first product, an email tip sheet chronicling congressional news called the Washington Reporter Brief, on June 3. It plans to hire more reporters to accompany Foldi in the coming months.
  • In addition to covering the Hill, the outlet will cover national politics and policy movement across issues such as antitrust, patent rights, health care, payment reform and financial services, a source told Axios.
  • The Washington Reporter's website will include job postings for congressional staffers looking to work on K Street.

Between the lines: The venture will be intentionally scrappy, a source said. Staffers will be paid out heavily through equity. There will be no office space.

  • The newsletter will launch as a free, weekly product, but eventually the firm plans to expand its cadence daily and add a paywall.
  • The plan is to make the newsletter available for free on the outlet's website 24 hours after the paywalled version sends to subscribers, the source said.
  • The outlet also plans to lean into corporate advertising as a source of revenue, two sources told Axios. Ventry and Colas have deep ties to corporate America. Both founders have represented dozens of Fortune 500 clients, in addition to Republican lawmakers.

What they're saying: Conversations with several senior House and Senate Republican aides suggest there's a hunger for a product that has a better understanding of what Republicans are thinking, especially if there's a Republican majority next Congress.

  • "The city just sort of runs on these tip sheets, and they set the narrative and agenda," one senior aide said. "I think there's an opening for someone who is going to be more fluent and able to write to things from the Republican perspective."
  • A lot of existing news organizations are writing about Congress "from a perspective that's maybe adversarial in our view," another aide said.

The big picture: In recent years, Republican operatives have pushed to develop more media products that cater to conservatives.

  • A group of former Republican congressional staffers and campaign operatives launched the "Ruthless" podcast in 2020, which is popular on Capitol Hill among conservatives.
  • The Free Press, a new media company that often writes to a center-right perspective, is raising funds this year to jump-start growth.
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