Other Oddities Come to Light
There are a few interesting developments today in the evolving mailergate scandal in which Stanford “researchers,” along with a researcher at Dartmouth College, sent 100,000 fake “voter guides” into Montana, with the look and feel of official state voter guides. You can see the fake voter guides at the Flathead Memo here.
First, it appears that one of the Stanford professors has a for-profit side venture called CrowdPAC https://www.crowdpac.com/about This obviously raises questions about about a potential conflict of interest between mailergate and Assistant Professor Adam Bonica’s for-profit silicon valley startup company.
Bonica co-founded CrowdPAC with a former aid to British Prime Minister David Cameron named Steve Hilton. CrowdPAC is funded by blue chip venture capital funds and appears to have both republicans and democrats involved in various capacities.
So one new question that has emerged is whether Bonica was using the fake voter guide experiment he sent in Montana, in which he wanted to test how his partisan scores drive voter turnout and behavior, not for academia but for his for-profit venture-capital backed side venture, CrowdPAC.
We also need to know if Stanford is a shareholder or holds any position in CrowdPAC. This is surprisingly common–in fact sources close to the industry say Stanford loves to brag about its role in creating Silicon Valley companies like CISCO Systems and Google.
Here’s what CrowdPAC does and how they make money doing it.
Bonica’s company sells data complied with algorithms for quantitative measurement of political ideology. Bonica built a model for CrowdPAC that uses algorithms based on political contributions, consumer data, and Twitter and social media “scraping” technologies to unlock all of this. Want to find a list of candidates who support cyanide strip mining or oppose GMOs? Supposedly CrowdPAC will sell it to you. It’s like Moneyball for political candidates or groups, with a little bit of Kickstarter thrown in.
CrowdPAC plans to make money in three ways:
1-Selling consulting services, presumably to SuperPACs like CrossRoads GPS.
2-Taking a percentage of donations it solicits. For example, it finds me a list of candidates who oppose trapping, and then gives me a confidence rating that they will actually vote as if they really are a friend of animals. And for this service, CrowdPAC will take a piece of the donations that I spend with those candidates–all through their own CrowdPAC online portal. Think Kickstarter for politics.
3-Selling ads on their sites.
If the research were for Bonica’s for-profit company, that would explain why it didn’t go through Stanford’s Independent Review Board. Stanford has confirmed “…the study did not follow Stanford’s protocols that would have required a review by the Standford IRB.”
Whether this is being done to line the pockets of a silicon valley start-up or to publish academic research, is unethical to make Montanans guinea pigs and meddle in our Supreme Court race. The Western Association of Political science featured a post that condemned the experiment.
Political scientists told Talking Points Memo in a report released Monday morning that the “study” was:
“malpractice” and “improper and unethical” because, by introducing the ideological position of non-partisan candidates, the flyers could — intentionally or not — influence the results of the elections.
“It’s basically political science malpractice. That’s what I’d call it,” Jennifer Lawless, professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., told TPM. …there is a difference between trying to have generalizable results and playing electoral god.”…Jeffrey Tulis, associate professor of government at the University of Texas-Austin, told TPM in an email after being alerted to the study: “My initial reaction is that this quasi-experiment is improper and unethical.”
As James Conner at the Flathead Memo writes however, internal investigations will not be enough here. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl are both launching investigations into the fake mailers. Sen. Jon Tester sent scathing letters to the presidents of both colleges and has called for an investigation into federal mail laws that might be in play here.
There are still too many unanswered questions. I’ll add a couple to the questions on Conner’s list.
Why was Adam Bonica in Montana earlier this year trying to sell his for-profit services through CrowdPAC at a FollowtheMoney.org conference in May of 2014?
The only the difference was that the Montanans4Justice graphic and the fake voter guides is that Montanans4Justice used little pictures of the candidates heads showing how close or how far a candidate’s head was to Obama. But as soon as the mailergate story broke, the graphic on Montanans4Justice was obliterated from that site.
As the Flathead Memo reported, the anti-Wheat site “Montanans4justice… was registered on 3 September 2014 by an anonymous party.” And even though the graphic was removed as of this posting, it still contains references to the exact same partisanship metrics used by the mailers and the supposed “experiment” –CrowdPAC’s DIME method, as well as criticism for Wheat and praise for VanDyke. [this time I got screenshots, see below.] CrowdPAC launched the same day.