Today, the silicon valley start-up company founded by mailergate professor Adam Bonica tried to distance itself from the scandal.
This after Standford University said it has launched an investigation into the connection between the Adam Bonica’s silicon valley start-up CrowdPAC and the fake voter guides Bonica sent to 100,000 Montana voters.
As Talking Points Memo reported this morning, Adam Bonica refused to respond to reporter questions. Instead, Bonica’s cofounder Steve Hilton tried to claim that CrowdPAC (which Bonica and Hilton launched last month) had no knowledge of the fake voter guides sent to 100,000 Montanans last week–until they read about it in the news.
This is simply laughable.
Bonica is CrowdPAC. He is the co-founder and chief scientist–and probably the only person who really understands his DIME model on which the whole company is based. He also probably owns at least 20-25% of the company. There is no CrowdPAC without Bonica any more than there would be a Google without Page and Brin.
So since Bonica sent out the mailers, and Bonica is CrowdPAC, yeah, CrowdPAC knows about them.
Here’s why this matters.
Bonica and Hilton are highly motivated to show the efficacy of the DIME model (that donations predict candidate ideology) now, in this election cycle, because the next big election is in 2016. He’s got maybe $2 million in venture capital investments that aren’t going to last that long. For one thing, CrowdPAC already probably has 3-6 employees–and has five open job announcements for engineers/scientists with an average salary of around $100k.
Start-ups, I’m told, typically get a little seed money and then take 18 months or so to show their concept is monetizable. Then they use the proof it can make money raise more from investors.
Because Bonica is the brains of CrowdPAC, he has to show–in this election cycle–that it his concept (1) works in the field and (2) can make money or his company won’t go forward. And the lynchpin to monetizing this company/concept is to prove it can impact elections. Otherwise its just another online academic portal that only political scientists would use rather than a start-up that is commercially viable and worthy of further investment.
When I look at mailergate through this scenario, the experiments don’t appear to be shoddy– they look like they were designed to manipulate the election. They would need to mask the academic nature of the mailing (which some have called a “mistake”) and to stoke partisan tensions in favor of one candidate or another (which some have called “unintentional”).
This would show why these guys probably thought they’d found the perfect lab rats in Montana. Montana’s non partisan judicial race was probably one of the easiest to cheaply make partisan with the DIME model in the U.S.
We were likely chosen is the sacrificial guinea pigs for these reasons:
1. We have a very polarized electorate.
2. We’ll have high turnout for an off-cycle (non-presidential) election year.
3. We have a low population, meaning we’re seen as a cheap date for this kind of manipulation.
And manipulation it was. As one of Bonica’s own senior colleagues at Stanford said:
“This is researchers manipulating, or at least seeking to manipulate, politics,” Mr. Krosnick said, referring to the Dartmouth-Stanford experiment. “As appealing as this might be on scientific grounds, the real question is whether it’s appropriate to interfere in this way.”
And these same researchers have manipulated people before:
Mr. Krosnick pointed to a previous study co-authored by Mr. Dropp, who is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth, in which more than 1,000 email requests were sent to Texas legislators in 2010. The emails appeared to come from Texas citizens, but were actually sent by the researchers to measure the legislators’ response rates.
“It crosses an ethical line to create fictitious people and use government resources for people who don’t exist,” Mr. Krosnick said. “There’s a habit here of lying to people.”
Montanans are sick of being lied to.
We also need to know more about the Hewlett Foundation’s investment in this experiment.
We know that Hewlett Foundation was aware of CrowdPAC, because they posted on their own website here that they were considering making an investment in the start-up. However, they instead decided to invest in non-profit organizations, which CrowdPAC is not.
However, since CrowdPAC essentially benefited from Hewlett funding anyway, what does that say about how for-profit start-ups are able to game the system to make big bucks?