Exclusive: GOP Launches iPhone-Like, High-Tech Data Operation

Priebus is seeking to retool how the party collects and shares data. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Priebus is seeking to retool how the party collects and shares data. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted May 1, 2013 at 11:49am

National Republicans are building a new data-sharing platform as the party moves to close a digital divide with Democrats that became glaringly apparent in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election.

Per a sneak peek provided to CQ Roll Call, the Republican National Committee is set to announce a partnership with two third-party entities designed to facilitate unprecedented data generation and sharing across all GOP party committees, consultants, vendors and the conservative outside groups that have become increasingly active in political campaigns. The effort, which could cost up to $20 million, stems from recommendations made by the Growth and Opportunity Project, the RNC’s internal autopsy of what went wrong last year commissioned by Chairman Reince Priebus.

“One of the biggest priorities identified by the Growth and Opportunity Project was the need to improve our data as a party, but also to increase access to data,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

Last cycle, the RNC engaged in voter-file list exchanges with other party committees, including the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. To guard against the potential for illegal coordination with these committees, Data Trust, a separate entity whose chairman of the board is former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, facilitated this list sharing.

But after losing congressional seats and failing to oust President Barack Obama, the Republican Party’s deficiency in both mining data and using it to influence voters has been under a spotlight. The Obama campaign hired technology experts who were not career political professionals to build an in-house data program that culled information on potential voters not previously associated with being useful in political campaigns, and applied it in an unorthodox fashion.

The Obama strategy was viewed as a stunning success, and the RNC wants to replicate it as the GOP gears up for 2014 and 2016. To wit, the RNC is building an interactive data hub in direct partnership with Liberty Works, a Republican-friendly, Silicon Valley technology company, as part of the GOP’s broader effort to modernize party operations on this front and reduce the Democrats’ advantage as the midterm and presidential elections draw closer.

Here’s how it is supposed to work: Using the digital platform designed and operated by Liberty Trust, any user approved by the RNC will have full access to all information compiled and constantly updated by the committee and stored in its “data warehouse” — not just the traditional voter-file lists, as has been the case until now.

In exchange, the users agree to share with the RNC whatever digital product, list or additional information they compile or assemble through the use of the original data. This new information is then input into the RNC data hub for the RNC and other users to access. Data Trust will manage the process, facilitating data exchange activities between the RNC and other entities, as it did last cycle.

“Our venture will change the game with a Republican, free enterprise approach to data and technology. We are building an open platform to increase access to data for the entire Republican team as well as to bring creativity and technological innovation to our party through new great applications that can be built off the platform,” said Dick Boyce, the investment and technology executive, and longtime Republican donor, who founded Liberty Works.

The RNC uses the analogy of how a consumer interacts with Apple’s iPhone and related technology to explain the new venture: “Think of this like Apple and the App Store. Liberty Works will build the iPhone and other vendors will be able to build the phone app or the contacts app,” Kukowski said, explaining that:

  • The platform will be built by Liberty Works
  • The initiative will be managed by Data Trust
  • The RNC data warehouse will be the center of the platform. This data warehouse on the GOP side includes decades of gathered data from voter contact, micro-targeting and publicly available consumer data.

It remains unclear how successful this effort will be accomplishing its core mission and leveling the playing field with Democrats. But the RNC and potential users are excited. The committee believes this method will foster creative and innovative ways of culling and analyzing information, while generating more of it and in formats customized specifically for individual campaigns at the ground level.

And, by making it available to candidate campaigns, state party committees and third party groups such as American Crossroads, they to hope increase the competitiveness of GOP campaigns and remove the top-down nature of the national party structure that irks many conservative grass-roots activists.

“This is just the type of modernization and innovation that we need to do to maximize success. It’s a big victory for Republicans across the board and most importantly will help our candidates win,” NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring said.