The GOP PAC-thetic Effort to Disclaim Cambridge Analytica

In the wake of Friday’s news that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted psychographic data based off Facebook data, Republicans have claimed they didn’t rely on CA in 2016’s election. Major Garrett, for example, reported that, for most but not all uses, the Trump campaign replaced CA with RNC data after proving the latter more accurate.

In late September 2016, Cambridge and other data vendors were submitting bids to the Trump campaign. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the primaries and in the summer because it was never certain the Republican National Committee would be a willing, cooperative partner. Cambridge Analytica instead was a hedge against the RNC, in case it wouldn’t share its data.

The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. The Trump campaign had tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate than Cambridge Analytica’s, and when it was clear the RNC would be a willing partner, Mr. Trump’s campaign was able to rely solely on the RNC.

Cambridge Analytica data was used for some targeted digital advertising and a large TV buy, but the main source of “get out the vote” and matching digital outreach data came from the RNC.

This story is not much different from one that got told last fall, in the wake of Brad Parscale’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. After using CA data for the first month of the general, the campaign transitioned to using RNC data (for whatever reason).

But according to both Parscale and [CA Chief Product Officer] Oczkowski, the campaign didn’t use Cambridge’s trove of data, opting instead for the RNC’s data file.

“The RNC was the voter file of record for the campaign, but we were the intelligence on top of the voter file,” Oczkowski says. “Sometimes the sales pitch can be a bit inflated, and I think people can misconstrue that.”

Parscale describes the firm’s work this way: “As I’ve said multiple times over prior statements, Matt Oczkowski and his team created a daily tracker of polling, so that I could see how Trump was doing in key swing states. They provided that to me daily.” Parscale says Cambridge also helped the campaign with what he calls “persuasion online media buying. They also helped us identify potential donors. And they created a visualization tool that showed in each state which areas were most persuadable and what those voters care about.”

As I noted at the time, however, Oczkowski claimed to be unaware of what CA was doing because the PAC activities were firewalled from campaign activities.

“I had absolutely no understanding any of this was going on, and I was surprised as everybody else when I saw the story” about Nix’s approach to Assange, Oczkowski says. During the campaign, he says his team was walled off from the rest of Cambridge, because the company was also working with a Trump Super PAC. Federal regulations prevent campaigns from coordinating with Super PACs. Of the 13 Cambridge staffers who worked in Trump’s San Antonio office, only four remain at the company.

Which, of course, suggests that the interesting stuff with CA was happening at the Super PAC, which just happens to have been run by the Mercers.

Today, Daily Beast reported that a Cambridge Analytica employee, Emily Cornell, gleefully pounced on the opportunity presented by the release of more stolen Hillary emails.

Cambridge Analytica hoped to capitalize on Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton and her ally, an email written by one of its employees indicates.

Emily Cornell, the employee, sent the email on July 29, 2016. It went out to people working with Make America Number One, the pro-Trump super PAC funded by Republican super-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

After noting some of the firm’s work for the super PAC, Cornell wrote: “With her campaign getting hacked, I can only imagine what a new swatch [sic] of emails will do to her already fractured base!”

This seems to confirm two things. First, the Mercer directed efforts remained happy to exploit Russia’s theft even later in the process (remember the Alexander Nix email to Julian Assange kept Mercer in the loop). And also, the Trump campaign claim to have ditched Cambridge Analytica are only meaningful insofar as they really maintained that firewall between campaign and PAC.

52 replies
  1. matt says:

    This latest with CA is far from exonerating Trump and other campaign associates from wrongdoing, as the Right would hope. Doesn’t it just pull in Mercers/Bannon as likely collaborators with Russian troll farms and FaceBook ad buys?

    • matt says:

      … and it seemed like the jist of NPR On Point today was that we are all victims of an out of control and unregulated social media and advertising technology, that apparently, Obama gets credit for inventing.  But Obama did not hire Russian troll farms or trade Russian help for foreign policy favors.

      • Bob Conyers says:

        NPR’s reporting is awful and their analysis is worse. They seem to be doing their best to out-NY Times the NY Times.

        I would chalk it up to fear for their funding, but I think it’s actually been completely digested into their corporate culture that they do not stray from the narrative of both sides being the same and if everyone would just give in a little (Democrats going first, of course) everyone would  come to a happy middle place in the middle.

        • matt says:

          I miss Tom Ashbrook, even if he was hard on his interns… but, yea, NPR bends over backwards for Conservative/Libertarian views.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          NPR fell asleep next to that large seed pod that looked a lot like David Brooks, and now there are two of them.

          • Trip says:

            Funny, @earl. I have noticed that the actual radio version is still better than the TV PBS slant.

  2. TJ says:

    I agree matt.

    However, I wonder if it also given DJT and Kushner “plausible deniability” about exactly what was happening with CA and possibly coordination with Russia prior to the General. Interesting that the official campaign stopped using CA info right before the October surprises, hmmm… Perhaps they wanted to outsource the rat-fuckery to the SuperPAC.

  3. eteamer says:

    Regarding the data…It’s likely that they divided the marketing by customer type.  Pro Trump by the campaign and anti Hillary by the PAC. Lots of good marketing reasons for that type of set up. But I also want to comment on the RNC database as the primary data source. Of course they used it. It was cleaner and had more accurate PII plus probably many existing attributes from prior overlays.  But remember what CamAnal did. They created models using the Facebook data and scored the file (s).  All you need then is a linking key for the datasets. Don’t know exactly what they scraped and FB ain’t saying but I bet it was email.  So you have the clean RNC file with handy dandy CamAnal scores to script you messaging on one side and stolen DNC data on the other with similarly useful scores on the other. Then you push that shit back into Facebook employing look alike models and boy are you cooking with gas.  Very tidy.


    • Bob Conyers says:

      I think you’re on the right track breaking down the division between RNC and CA data, and we’ll hopefully find out more.

      I am also suspicious that the Trump campaign would have completely thrown out the CA data, and the cover story about switching to the RNC data is trying to confuse people by talking about just a single section of the campaign’s data activities, where the CA to RNC transition took place. They want to imply that it was a campaign-wide move instead of just what they did in one area.

      There is simply no way they would throw out all of the data from CA. They would edit it, massage it, merge it, but just setting it aside because the RNC data was better is just not the way data managers work when presented with a useful but somewhat flawed set on the scale of what they got from CA.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Because I don’t know what format the CA data was stored in, nor the RNC data format, I assumed that these underlings of Digital Mastermind Bannon converted data from CA format -> RNC format and then said, “Look FBI!  It was only RNC data we wuz using!”

        Anyone who is willing to peddle Ukrainian mistresses, and deal with the Roger Stones of the world, is certainly capable of trying to claim that converting file formats absolved them from theft.

        I’d love to be wrong on this point.

      • Anne says:

        I agree, the whole idea of “better” is ridiculous unless you’re talking about a phone number or address.  The data they have is contextual, and I’m guessing they took all of it and did a data visualization parsing of it to pull out trends over time, etc.

      • Trip says:

        They didn’t simply massage the minds of GOP voters. They (either foreign or domestic, or foreign and domestic troll farms/bots) targeted left-leaning voters as well. They wouldn’t have found them in the RNC cache. That’s why Facebook provided a much wider net on political views including the disenfranchised or disaffected left as well.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The excesses of “social” media firms like FB and Giggle are systemic. They are the heart and soul of these technology companies. Our information is their product and their raw material, for which they do not pay. What they pay for is the playground. Children come and play and exchange all they hold most dear because the playground makes it so easy.

    They sell for billions what they observe and discover. They entice other “researchers” to develop tools to analyze their treasure troves of data. They retain a permanent, worldwide, non-exclusive license to use what they develop. That expands their reach geometrically, as does pulling in lists of friends from individual users, and by making it virtually impossible to leave their own special Hotel California.

    What is specific to the GOP, to this Super Pac, and to CA and its related companies is the utilization of that data for the specific purpose of analyzing and influencing voters in a specific context and contest – as opposed to, say, selling newspapers, sexy lingerie or gun paraphernalia.

    The odds that Trump and Bannon and this Mercer-funded Super Pac maintained an arm’s length relationship, shielded by an effective Chinese Wall, are about as good as Donald waking up tomorrow a hundred pounds lighter and with real hair instead of a feather boa wrapped around his bald pate.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Probably why bannon is hiding out a bit.

      Steve Bannon-owned Cambridge Analytica LLC, a US subsidiary of UK defense contractor SCL Group, has been increasingly faulted for its dual role in both Donald Trump and Brexit’s victories. Its elevated & expensive role in the Trump digital marketing team’s self-proclaimed voter suppression rollout was the culmination of several years of preparation by military and anti-government interests on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as nationless finance & technology kingmakers seeking to enhance their own profit power.

      • matt says:

        Wow.  That Medium article you linked blew my mind.

        Doesn’t this change the calculus as to who’s behind the election meddling? Can we honestly indicate Putin/Russia as the main driver/conspirator behind Trumps presidency??

        • Trip says:

          There is intersectionality, to use a trendy word. Look up Gatestone Institute. The Mercers are connected there, too. As is Dershowitz, neocon Bolton, and Israeli Lukids, with assists from the Kremlin and Kremlin/Russian outlets promoting the narratives. Look up the Kochs and their connections to the religious right and oligarchs in Russia. The Kremlin pushing conservative Christian religion (as cover for tyranny). If the EU fails, Putin gets to exercise his own imperialistic desires. Look up the more recent bro-ness between Putin and Netanyahu. Look at Bibi, Dershowitz and others aligning against Obama, and his positions on Muslims.

          A referendum last year on whether the Dutch government should ratify a trade deal with Ukraine was triggered by a far-right news site, GeenStijl.
          The eventual rejection of the trade deal turned into an embarrassing defeat for the Dutch government, which was forced to backpedal on its commitment to Ukraine. Opponents of the trade deal, including GeenStijl, cited an opposition to E.U. expansion and a desire not to antagonize the Kremlin as reasons to vote it down.
          Pro-Ukraine-deal campaigners say they suspect that the Kremlin put a finger on the scale by supporting activists and pro-Russian trolls online, although no link has been proved. The activists, including GeenStijl, deny any connection. 
          But even absent ties to Russia, the news sites demonstrated a powerful ability to disrupt the pro-E.U. agenda of the Dutch mainstream, creating a political headache for Dutch leaders and feeding Western disunity that coincides with Kremlin efforts.

  5. Yogarhythms says:

    Thank you EW for excellent storyline. Thou dost protest to much…. Consistent references to “ We stopped using CA.” Paired with RNC is better. CA has a proven track record that is so incredible new departments will spring up on campuses to harness a new powerful tool for mass control. Yes there was a firewall between Superpacs and campaign. I can’t stop this feeling that BP spent over hundred million we know of for add buys and there had to be message congruence. Forensic Linguistics caught the Una Bomber. I propose Forensic Linguistics will shatter suggested Trump campaign firewall between Super PACs and official campaign based on message congruence suggested by CA and repeated by all: Super PAC, campaign, Bots.

    • JD12 says:

      They tried using forensic linguistics to catch the Unabomber but really it was his family who recognized his writing once it was published.

      You still may be right about the patterns between the campaign and PACs. For the most part positive messages went through the campaign and negative messages went through PACs, but Trump ran a very negative campaign so they probably overlapped.

  6. der says:

    A year ago Jane Mayer did an in depth piece on the Mercers (many names from that article are now well known):

    – On top of this nonprofit spending, Mercer invested in private businesses. He put ten million dollars into Breitbart News, which was conceived as a conservative counterweight to the Huffington Post. … The site played a key role in undermining Hillary Clinton; by tracking which negative stories about her got the most clicks and “likes,” the editors helped identify which story lines and phrases were the most potent weapons against her. Breitbart News has been a remarkable success: according to ComScore, a company that measures online traffic, the site attracted 19.2 million unique visitors in October (2016).

    Mercer also invested some five million dollars in Cambridge Analytica, a firm that mines online data to reach and influence potential voters. The company has said that it uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers (i.e. Facebook folks).

    Alexander Nix, the C.E.O. of the firm, says that it has created “profiles”—consisting of several thousand data points—for two hundred and twenty million Americans. In promotional materials, S.C.L. has claimed to know how to use such data to wage both psychological and political warfare. “Persuading somebody to vote a certain way,” Nix has said publicly, “is really very similar to persuading 14- to 25-year-old boys in Indonesia to not join Al Qaeda.” Some critics suggest that, at this point, Cambridge Analytica’s self-promotion exceeds its effectiveness. But Jonathan Albright, an assistant professor of communications at Elon University, in North Carolina, recently published a paper, on Medium, calling Cambridge Analytica a “propaganda machine.”

    By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.

    Recent Jonathan Albright: The Graph API: Key Points in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Debacle

  7. DE says:

    Trump paid Camanal $5,000,000 on 9/1/16 and then did not use them? Really? Almost as funny as “Silver Beaver” which is still the funniest thing I have seen on Twitter.

    • Robert says:

      Is it a surprise that their customers are reluctant to say anything that might sound like an admission of guilt?

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        NDAs can be effective. To keep things out of court.

        Most that are presented with an NDA should be suspicious.

        They may be dealing with a criminal op.

  8. Repack Rider (Charlie Kelly) says:

    I wasn’t on FB until my publisher told me I had to maintain a page there for my book. So now I am.

    I didn’t seem to be targeted for any of that stuff, and I wasn’t even aware it was on FB, because obviously my profile indicated I wasn’t receptive.

    I wasn’t completely immune from attempts. A couple of people forwarded to me what I now recognize as Russki fake news, and I just cut them off for being too stupid.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Did you ever ask those fb friends in person if they really actually ‘fowarded’ those alleged ‘ruskie fake news articles’ to you?

      I suspect the answer is nyet.

      You just got tired of seeing the junk.

      So you un-friended them.

      Consider, they may have never sent the stuff in the first place.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Jared Kushner does know that the diplomatic world plays by its own special rules.  Telling tales out of school, little tittle-tattle exchanges of who in your regime doesn’t like you does not lead to a scoop by the Washington Post.  With authoritarian rulers rich enough to have the money Kushner wants to borrow, but who have the restraint of a Philippine dictator, it gets people killed.

  10. Rugger9 says:

    The question is what the UK will do as well as the US.  Here, the palace can keep a lid on things, but not as likely in the UK.  Even though May is (allegedly) co-opted by using their services, the press there will force a formal Parliamentary inquiry if not a criminal investigation.  I noted Millie Dowling before because Murdoch’s news organization went way out of bounds to get and plant stories (including sending messages as though MIllie wrote them) and interfered with the police.  I don’t think the public in the UK will be amused by CA’s antics.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Pushing a rope, if the old boy net SCL has surrounded itself with is accurate.  As the Pentagon has distributed jobs and sourcing to every congressional district in America, which gives it enormous influence with Congress, SCL has grafted onto the boards of its various group companies the alpha and omega of British society.  Add in the right banks and equity holders, and a slew of confidential contracts with the MOD, the intelligence services, and the Foreign Office, and you have SCL as an establishment presence.  Cambridge Analytica need only be a disposable conduit.  Shell companies there are aplenty.

      The fight is worth it, but best not to underestimate the opposition.

  11. matt says:

    From the Guardian (related to Nigerian elections):

    The data analytics firm that worked on the Donald Trump election campaign was offered material from Israeli hackers who had accessed the private emails of two politicians who are now heads of state, witnesses have told the Guardian.

    Maybe Putin was right about “Jewish” (Israeli)* Hackers and the DNC/Hillary emails?

    *let me clearly state that this is not anti-Semitic in context… rather that the State of Israel has strong foreign policy agendas, clandestine national security operations, an active part in the war in Syria, and strong ties to Kushner and Trump.


    • matt says:

      Well… if the dirty tricks got too dirty even for Cambridge Analytica’s comfort zone… maybe they farmed out work to “sub-contractors” (Russian troll farms, Israeli hackers/intelegence).  Manifort/Stone/Nix/Mercer/Bannon would all presumably want keep their hands clean of more nefarious methods of election meddling.

      It is curious that CA/SCL group was active in Ukraine in opposition to the efforts of Manifort.  Might explain, why Nix has a predilection for “Ukraine girls.”

      And, why Manifort told CA to “get lost.”

      SCL group is the “rabbit hole” of Russia-gate and election meddling the world over.  And, they are intertwined with our own establishment and military industrial complex.  I couldn’t begin to understand why SCL group went to bat for Trump- unless there was a deeply rooted Establishment coup against Hillary.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mark Zuckerberg is taking a leaf out of Trump’s one-page book on how to respond to questions, especially if they involve having to testify about embarrassing moments:

    Mark would be happy to testify before Congress “if it’s the right thing to do.”

    Mark the billionaire innovator, with more access to your personal data than you have, will be the one eventually, possibly to decide what might perchance be the right thing to do.  Mark the data expert seems to be stuck in a loop of his own devising.

    • Trip says:

      In what universe is answering questions about the assault on privacy the wrong thing to do?  That this is even a passable statement as far as determining right and wrong demonstrates how far we have sunk. Fuckerberg is determining whether it will good for him; PR-wise.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        I read that as a hint to players in Congress (IC *cough* oversight *cough* committees).

        As in, don’t press. Do not do your oversight role.

        • Trip says:

          Maybe. But Zuckerberg is about making Zuckerberg look virtuous, even though he is mostly clueless toward that end, since he doesn’t seem to actually care about anyone. Case in point, selling his cartoon virtual reality thingie while touring the devastation left in Puerto Rico. Also, his announcement of donating a bulk of his wealth to charity, when in reality it was  a restructuring of money, set aside for Facebook expansion across the globe, under the guise of promoting democracy. (which would ostensibly make him more money). I believe he actually may lack the capacity to know what empathetic people consider “right”.


  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Good resource here for those continuing to follow the Cambridge Analytica – SCL Group.  Liam O’Hare at has been following them for some time.  He considers the two virtually interchangeable.  I would note that while Alexander Nix has been removed as director of CA, he remains on the boards of various SCL companies.  It would seem SCL is just playing hide the pea until it weathers the storm.

    In an earlier blogpost, O’Hare lays out how much of an establishment firm SCL has made itself over the last 25 years: staunchly Tory, ex-military, venture capital, old Etonians and a Mountbatten.

    O’Hare also lays out an aspect of its standard business model, which it has supposedly used in 200 odd elections around the world.  It negotiates a project with a top local politician or fixer.  It then arranges a nominal contract about an unrelated issue with some host government agency, which it uses as cover for its election manipulation activities.  Its e-mails may not self-destruct within five seconds or two hours, but it works hard to operate as a ghost.  One of its premier projects was Brexit.

    Other reporting notes that Paul Manafort declined to use CA during his limited tenure at the helm of Trump’s campaign. He used a similar approach for his work in the Ukraine, so perhaps he felt that CA-SCL, a bigger outfit, was too much competition.

    • matt says:

      SCL was backing NATO and independent Ukraine… in opposition to Manifort/Putin.  Which is weird, unless timed with Mercers buyout/takeover of the company later?

      • matt says:

        I’ll answer my own question… from this Vox article, looks like Mercer and Bannon became involved in SCL group and created Cambridge Analytica in 2013, after the time when SCL was working for NATO and US State department interests in Ukraine and elsewhere.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Further evidence of SCL’s establishment chops.  The Information Commissioner sought on Tuesday a warrant to search CA’s offices, owing to its lack of cooperation in responding to her request for documents.  The IC is still waiting.

      “A high court judge has adjourned the ICO’s application for a warrant relating to Cambridge Analytica until Friday.”

      That’s rather a long time for the IC to wait for an “urgent” warrant.  As an unrelated matter,

      On Tuesday, crates were seen being removed from the central London office that Cambridge Analytica shares with other tenants. No one on the scene would comment on the origin of the crates, and the ICO said it was not involved in their removal.

      Just a coinky dink.  I believe that other reporting has CA sharing offices with its parent and other SCL companies.  Imitating Mark Zuckerberg’s, “if it’s the right thing to do,” and Donald Trump’s attempts to structure his interview with Bob Mueller’s staff, CA has, “offered to let the ICO attend its office voluntarily, ‘subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection’.”

      Reports of the demise of the old boy net are greatly exaggerated.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        List of directors for SCL Group Limited, from Bloomberg:

        Nigel Oakes, CEO; John Bottomley, FCIS, Company Secretary (Insiders)

        Julian Wheatland; Roger Gabb; Gavin McNicoll; Alex Oakes; Alexander Nix, BA; Ivar Mountbatten; James Mitchell; Phil Taylor, BA, PhD

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        Crates of computers.

        The evidence is gone as I predicted would happen.

        The offices should have been properly secured, but, alas, where is the profit in that?

        Coverup is important for bottom line.

    • TJ says:

      Yeah.  The amount of “there’s really nothing to see here” coming from Trump associates is astounding.  It just sounds like they doth protest too much.

      Follow the money trail instead: a big financial backer of GOP dirty tricks and Steve Bannon in particular invests in CA, and the Trump campaign pays them $5 mil for “useless data”?   Come on.  As they say money talks, bullshit walks.

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