ProPublica: Democrats May Peddle Voter Opinions to Corporations

Friday, 08 Feb 2013 12:45 PM

By John Morgan

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Democratic Party officials are considering selling voter opinion information to credit card companies, retailers like Target or other commercial interests, according to an investigation by journalism watchdog group ProPublica.

Much of the data in the Democrats’ National Voter File Co-op is already public, such as voters’ names, addresses and party affiliation.

But local Democratic parties also have compiled information about individual voters’ views and preferences. Some state Democratic organizations are using it to estimate how likely any voter is to vote for a Democrat, support President Barack Obama or their opinions on topics such as abortion and gun control, ProPublica said.

Editor's Note: The Truth About the Economy — Government Documents Lead to Eerie Conclusion

“Everything is on the table, nothing’s off the table,” said Ken Martin, a member of the co-op’s board and chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

“It’s up to us to figure out what [data] there’s a market for, and whether there’s a comfort level among state parties for selling that information,” he said.

In its exclusive investigation, ProPublica said the co-op is looking for new potential clients for its data, including companies that may use the data for commercial purposes.

“That’s one of our growth areas,” said Drew Brighton of TargetSmart Communications, which helps administer and market the Democratic co-op’s data. “Over the next six months, we are going to go ahead and make the rounds with some corporate interests.”

According to ProPublica, each state Democratic Party will have the final decision whether to sell their state’s voter information.

Republicans apparently do not share the view that detailed voter information should be sold to corporate bidders.

Asked if the GOP sells its proprietary data to retailers or credit card companies, Republican National Party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski wrote, “Absolutely not – hasn’t happened in past and won’t in [the] future.”

Karl Sandstrom, a former vice chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and an attorney for the Democratic co-op, said of the Democratic plan, “Generally, information freely provided to the party by the voter, or data about who participated in a primary is not subject to any prohibition on it being sold.”

The Obama campaign acknowledged recently its extensive database of voter information will be used to mobilize support for the president’s agenda via a new advocacy group, Organizing for Action. The group did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment on the story.

ProPublica also contacted 11 Democratic state party chairs about the story. The investigative journalism group said all of them either declined or did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Oregon Democratic officials said they would not sell data collected from state voters to commercial interests, the Oregonian reported.

Meredith Wood Smith, the Oregon Democratic chairwoman, said the ProPublica article prompted her to confirm with other party leaders that they would block their data from being used for commercial purposes.

Obama last year proposed what he called a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

He called the effort “a blueprint for privacy in the information age,” according to The Hill, and said, “My administration will work to advance these principles and work with Congress to put them into law.”

Editor's Note: The Truth About the Economy — Government Documents Lead to Eerie Conclusion

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