Jim Messina, Dark Money, And MT Democrats

by lizard

At the annual Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, Montana Democrats got to bask in the post-victory glow of Obama’s campaign guru, Jim Messina.

And what did Montana Democrats learn from the boy-faced architect of Obama’s electoral success? Technology was one of the things that made a difference:

Another major takeaway from the campaign, Messina said, was how technology and new media has changed by light years since 2008 when he was chief of staff on the Obama campaign. By 2012, Facebook was 10 times larger than it was in 2008, he said.

“On Election Day in 2008, we send out one tweet because we thought it was a silly technology that would never go anywhere,” Messina said. “Now Twitter is one of the ways people communicate.”

By 2012, Messina said he didn’t care if Obama supporters organized people online or did it in their neighborhood on the doors, “just as long as I can track it.

“We were able to really able to change the way you do politics because of technology,” Messina said.

What you won’t read in the Missoulian article is how the tech-network that helped propel Obama to victory has evolved into another manifestation of dark money:

Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign was the most technologically advanced political operation in American history, a techie’s wet dream. The campaign, led by Jim Messina, amassed and distilled vast quantities of voter data, built apps and networks to mobilize voters and enlist volunteers, and practically perfected the science of email fundraising. Post-election, Messina and his lieutenants weren’t about to let their data files, email lists, algorithms, and grassroots machine simply gather dust. Instead, they will soon launch Organizing for Action, a standalone advocacy group created to bolster Obama as he pursues his second-term agenda. Messina wrote in an email to donors and staffers that the new group “will be a supporter-driven organization, as we’ve always been, staying true to our core principles: ‘respect, empower, include.'”

But there’s a rub: Organizing for Action will be formed under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, and will not be required to disclose its donors. (The Los Angeles Times first reported this.) For context, Karl Rove’s dark-money juggernaut, Crossroads GPS, is a 501(c)(4), as is the Koch-backed national conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The decision to make Organizing for Action a dark-money nonprofit makes sense strategy-wise: as a nonprofit the new group can meet and coordinate with members of the Obama White House, which it couldn’t do as a super-PAC. But the decision flies in the face of Obama and the Democrats’ supposed commitment to transparency.

Yeah, this doesn’t bode well for that “supposed commitment to transparency” Obama gives lip service to. And who will be directing the dark money? You guessed it.

Jim Messina is now free to peddle his influence, and helping his former boss, Max Baucus, win reelection, will be just one of the ways Messina is monetizing his role for Obama. From the Missoulian article:

He recently formed the Messina Group, a three-person consulting firm in Washington, D.C., to advise political campaigns and nonprofit groups on the lessons they learned in the Obama campaign, especially grass-roots organizing, new media and technology. Among his clients is the Democratic National Committee.

Baucus, who is running for a seventh term in the Senate, isn’t one of Messina’s clients, but Messina added: “I will do anything I can to help him. I think his re-election is crucial for Montana. I think Max Baucus will absolutely be re-elected because he does what’s right for Montana.”

Messina also is the unpaid national chairman of Organizing for Action, a nonprofit advocacy group where the Obama campaign donated its leftover campaign funds to push for the president’s legislative agenda.

He also is giving paid speeches around the world.

So Messina will “do anything” to help Max retain his powerful position as a top-level prostitute for corporate access. Yippee!

The data monster Messina helped create is a serious cause for concern. In Minnesota, for example, this article describes how the seemingly innocuous “Grandma Brigade” is funneling data about friends and family into a massive database for future use.

Much of the data the Grandma Brigade collects is prosaic: records of campaign donations or voters who have recently died. But a few volunteers see free information everywhere. They browse the listings of names on Tea Party websites. They might add a record of what was said around the family Thanksgiving table — Uncle Mitch voted for Bachmann, cousin Alice supports gay marriage.

One data volunteer even joked about holding “rat out your neighbor parties,” where friends would be encouraged to add notes about the political views of other people on their block.

Once information about individual people is entered into the state party’s database, it doesn’t stay in Minnesota. Almost all the information collected by local volunteers like the Grandma Brigade also ends up in the party’s central database in Washington.

Few places have data volunteers as dedicated as the ones in Minnesota, which has been held up as a model for other state Democratic parties. Both Democrats and Republicans have centralized databases that, among other things, track opinions you share with local campaign volunteers.

Each piece of information the parties have stored about you might not be too interesting on its own. But taken together, they’re incredibly powerful. Political campaigns are using this voter data to predict voters’ behavior in increasingly sophisticated ways.

If this is the path Montana Democrats want to take, so be it.

But if the only thing that matters is winning the next election (and political snakes like Jim Messina are willing to “do anything” to do just that) then addressing the continued corruption of the whole political process will never happen.

  1. Matthew Koehler

    Good post Liz. Anonymous, Dark Money needs to be exposed and opposed at all levels no matter what. Those Dems who offer up a bunch of “Yeah, but….” excuses as to why the GOP’s Dark Money is bad, but the Dem’s Dark Money is good (supposedly because the ends justify the means) are no better than Karl Rove, in my view.

  2. And if you think this “will-do-anything” approach is limited to political campaigns, think again. It is the same authoritarian mentality that drives hideously violent, anti-democratic policy decisions attached to “must-pass” spending bills. Riders are the policy equivalent of “dark money” in campaigns. Authoritarian approaches to policy and campaign have become one continuous big-money, circle-jerk.

  3. lizard19

    here is a hilarious comment (in a if-I-don’t-laugh-I’ll-weep kind of way) from someone calling himself montanamuralist from the Missoulian article:

    The fact that the brain behind the Obama reelection is a Montanan, with a degree from UM, is brilliant in the way he develops campaign strategy, and drives himself around the country rather than taking a corporate jet of some type, must drive the right wingers here crazy. Which is fine with me because events and circumstances in this country, the corporate greed and the inequality of incomes in this country are going against the right wing agenda. Now all we have to do is get the Democrats to grow a pair and fight the idiots in Congress who are determined to destroy this country and the poor and the sick with austerity. So have at it right wing nut cases….you still lost the election despite what Boner pontificates about, continuing to sound like the lame corporate but boy he is. .the majority that is. The majority in this country understand the role of government and while we want to see programs that are solvent and work well we also are not buying in to obstructing and hurting people who are weak and poor. Who work hard despite your stereotypes created by comedian Rush Limbaugh and the rest of your looney tunes commentators. Have at it here. It makes no difference because you lost the election and we can be happy that a smart Montanan had a major role in getting that done. Here comes the crying now…

  4. larry kurtz

    Hey, Missoula: thanks for helping us destroy the GOP! You guys rock!

  5. Eric

    I wonder if Messina does understand that Obama lost here – badly, and that the dems are becoming a permanent minority in our State legislature ?

    • Steve W

      Obama lost Badly? Not as badly as Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Mitt Romney and John McCain both won here. I bet they are thrilled. Are they going to run for Governor?

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