News & Observer: After Facebook data leak, NC Democrats to file elections complaint against Tillis, GOP
By Brian Murphy
May 2, 2018
The North Carolina Democratic Party contends that Sen. Thom Tillis and the North Carolina Republican Party’s actions during the 2014 campaign violated federal law and elections regulations, according to a complaint by the Democrats.
Democrats planned to file the complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday morning.
The complaint alleges that Tillis and the state Republicans “knowingly assisted Cambridge Analytica’s foreign national employees in influencing” Tillis’ 2014 campaign against incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.
Further, the complaint says Tillis and the Republicans “accepted illegal and in-kind contributions” from John Bolton’s super PAC through the use of Cambridge Analytica. The Tillis campaign, the NC GOP and the Bolton political action committee all hired Cambridge Analytica during the 2014 campaign.
The Democrats are asking the FEC to investigate and fine Tillis and state Republicans “the maximum amount permitted by law.”
“Recent reports detailing how Senator Tillis’ 2014 campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party used foreign nationals in decision-making roles and illegally coordinated with an outside independent expenditure group are troubling and deserve to be investigated under the full authority of the law,” state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement. “Protecting the sanctity of our elections is paramount and any violations must be rooted out and punished to curb future efforts to undermine our elections.”
Much of the information from their complaint comes from media reports about Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica is a data firm that is now banned by Facebook, after a whistleblower said the firm acquired more than 50 million users’ data from a third-party vendor and used it to shape profiles of potential voters for clients in the United States. The firm touted its work on the Tillis campaign on its website.
Bolton is now President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
The Tillis campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000 in 2014 an another $100,000 in 2015 — including post-election payments the campaign described as a “win bonus.” The NC GOP paid Cambridge Analytica $150,000 in 2014 and another $65,000 in 2015. Bolton’s super PAC, which supported several Republican candidates in the 2014 elections, paid the data firm more than $1.1 million in 2014 and 2015. The super PAC reported spending more than $1.3 million in support of Tillis, according to the FEC.
FEC regulations prohibit foreign nationals — that is, citizens of another country — from “directing, dictating, controlling or directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process … with regard to any election-related activities.”
The Democrats allege that Cambridge Analytica employee Tim Glister, a British citizen who spent time in North Carolina during the 2014 campaign, participated in decision-making for the campaign. Glister told Bloomberg in 2015 that he “was English enough to be an entertaining curiosity” during his time working in North Carolina for the state party on behalf of Tillis.
In the same article, Tillis campaign consultant Paul Shumaker said Cambridge Analytica’s models allowed the Tillis campaign to identify a “cluster of voters” interested in foreign affairs. Tillis ramped up attacks on Hagan about foreign policy and the rise of the Islamic State group late in the campaign. Cambridge Analytica made similar claims on its website, suggesting that its help was one of the reasons Tillis won a close race against Hagan.
Dallas Woodhouse, the current NC GOP executive director, told McClatchy in March that no foreign nationals worked for the state party in 2014. A former Cambridge Analytica staffer told NBC News that many foreign nationals worked on campaigns and that his team instructed the Tillis campaign “on the messaging.”
“We crafted his messaging, we targeted his messaging,” ChrisWylie told NBC.
The Tillis campaign has denied having any foreign workers on its team and said that strategic decisions were made by a small group of high-level staffers.
The Democrats claim that “after providing campaign services to the Tillis campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party in the final months of 2014, Cambridge Analytica appears to have used the same information” for the John Bolton super PAC in support of Tillis. This, the complaint says, “constitutes coordination under the FEC’s “common vendor” standard and thus makes the expenditures by the super PAC in favor of Tillis an “in-kind contribution” that exceeded the allowable amount.