Romney’s White Whale: Old Man’s IT and the Election That Got Away

Moby Dick

[Illustration from Moby Dick, c. 1925 edition]

ArsTechnica did a comparison between Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns’ information technology expenditures. They note a few key attributes that differentiate the Romney campaign’s use of IT:

  • Outsource anything that’s not a key competency, and spend as little as possible on it;
  • Reward “friends” with outsourcing contracts;
  • Spend on ad hoc items and pre-built SaaS* (buy from “friends” where possible).

Sure looks like the typical modus operandi of vulture capitalists that don’t invest but hit-and-run on the high seas, looking to harpoon anything of value in order to flay its carcass for cash. This says something both familiar and abhorrent about Mitt Romney and his supporters with regard to democracy.

But there are several other points that ArsTechnica missed in their assessment.

Generational shift — The difference in funds allocated and the way in which the IT monies were spent revealed a compelling truth: old guy Romney doesn’t value information technology the way younger guy Obama does. It’s a generational shift, from old school campaigns which still rely heavily on direct mail and broadcast media, to digital campaigns run by Gen-X and Millennials who are digital natives.

Based on past performance by vendors and team members alike, Obama’s team also trusts the technology team it assembled to do work quickly, effectively, on the fly. They trusted technology.

In contrast, Romney’s camp went with bigger brand name vendors like Best Buy (via service subsidiary) and SalesForce (for customer relationship management SaaS app). In mega-corporate they trust, apparently.

IT effectiveness opaque to outsiders — What exactly was the Romney team’s ORCA application? ArsTechnica notes the lack of disclosure, but doesn’t really ask a key question: what were all of ORCA’s deliverables? It sure wasn’t a GOTV application based on what the public could see. It looked more like a GMSV (giant money-sucking vortex) and nobody from Team Romney wants to talk, while rejecting any claims that ORCA was a fail whale. We’ll likely never know what the problems were with ORCA and what positive/negative impact it had on the campaign unless insiders leak about the application.

“Friends” made less visible IT contributions — Although some Obama supporters provided their own IT firepower to boost support through their own independent effort, the Romney camp received far more IT help in tandem through super PACs. The pro-Romney/anti-Obama digital campaign purchased by these super PAC “friends” was far larger than the Romney campaign’s IT component.

And of course, IT spending by these groups can be a black hole since donors’ identities need not be disclosed. How does the public know with absolute certainty what was donated if full disclosure isn’t required? Under current campaign finance laws we can’t be absolutely certain if donors provided cash, or a donation-in-kind, or both; there’s an inadequate amount of information reported providing a solid audit trail to assure the public that donations of any kind have been fully revealed. Ditto for privately-held corporations like those owned by the Koch brothers whose financial records are confidential; what was their contribution to these super PACs?

Yet firms with the biggest IT spending in the world are required to be more transparent, due to their status as publicly-held entities. Funny how we expect our search engines and booksellers to be more upfront with their digital technology expenditures than a campaign that sought control of our federal government.
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* SaaS = Software as a Service — buy-as-you-use hosted applications, versus packaged applications or developed/customized to order hosted applications.

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21 Responses to Romney’s White Whale: Old Man’s IT and the Election That Got Away

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @cocktailhag @lrozen But, hey, I am only 50+ years old+not an international sage who has called for intervention over years. Whatta I know?
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @cocktailhag @lrozen No, inspire of all the war drum bangers, I have, per long history, no respect, and only contempt.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @cocktailhag Well, my original indoctrination to the principle was: "Long arm for taking, and a short arm for giving". About 30 years ago.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Whats scary pathetic is that half wit "experts" in "press" are again agitating, just like Vietnam, Iraq, Libya etc for war in Syria+Ukraine
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I am not sure you geniuses on the east coast with long arm for asking, and short arm for answering, actually give a shit about Sep of Pwrs.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I KNOW all you DC Press Peoples are all up on everything, but after weeks of telling you, now @lawfareblog says so, can you pay attention?
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Maybe the war drum bangers for Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia+all the other asinine places in world are right; history says no. cc: @lrozen
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@nicholsong Ooops, yeah, I fell for that BS back in the day, see: http://t.co/zj45YfdKlZ But turned out to be total bullshit. cc: @lrozen
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@nicholsong You have something that says the current, apparent, Obama Admin. rolling desecration of the WPR is fine and dandy? Really?
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So, sorry, hope I didn't insult any of high holy 30 somethings over petty little thing like Sep of Pwrs. Cause, you know #PoliticalBullshit
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Lawdy, I JUST CAN'T WAIT for some nubes at @TNR to tell me how freakin OK+normal it is for Obama to be desecrating WPR Separation of Powers.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @timmathews Really, that is a great location, right in the heart of New Orleans. #BonusPointsForFalseCheer?
4hreplyretweetfavorite
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