The Fight Over Political Data: RNC vs. i360 and the Unlock the VAN Movement

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"There has been a feud brewing in the political industry regarding voter data over the past few years and it has continued to escalate," writes Patrick O'Keef, Director of the University of Florida's Political Comms Program. "While the circumstances are a bit different on the left and the right, the fact remains the same: those who control the data, hold the power." 

The following is an excerpt. You can find the full story, which begins with a short history of a similar fight on the right, on his blog Political Moneyball.

While the battle on the right has been going on for a long time, the battle on the left has only heated up recently. Back in the mid-2000’s when Howard Dean was DNC Chairman, the DNC chose to hire a vendor to maintain a national database of Democratic voters. That company still has the contract and its name is NGP VAN. Essentially, NGP VAN has a complete monopoly over data and technology on the left. This is largely because Democrats won in 2008 and 2012 and didn’t have to worry about being questioned in the area. Barack Obama’s campaigns were heralded for their use of technology while Republicans were chastised. Why worry about competition when NGP VAN was better than the rest?

This line of thinking has proven to be highly faulty. There were grumblings prior to the 2016 election. First, there was the DNC “Datagate” situation in December 2015. Long story short, a security lapse by NGP VAN led to Bernie Sanders staffers accessing proprietary data to the Hillary Clinton campaign. This led to the Sanders campaign having their access to VoteBuilder temporarily revoked and accusations lobbed from the Clinton campaign. Ultimately, it was a big black eye to the Democratic National Committee. [...]

On top of the issues at the top of the ticket, down ballot, state parties became very stingy about protecting incumbents and wouldn’t provide data to primary challengers. [...]

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, vendors started to express louder concerns about NGP VAN.

Ad Astra Group, Aristotle, cStreet Campaigns, eCanvasser, icitizen, iDONATEpro, Mosaic Strategies, NationBuilder, Organizer, Run for Office, SparkInfluence, Tectonica, and VoteRockit joined together to start a movement they call “Unlock the VAN.” [...]

What’s most interesting about the Unlock the VAN movement, is the companies are asking the DNC to do exactly what the RNC did two years ago. It’s unclear if the movement will lead to any long-term changes, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the grassroots push new DNC Chairman Tom Perez into this direction.

Looking to the future for all sides, integration will be the key for any technology companies looking to make a splash. Campaigns can no longer afford to have siloed data.

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