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Obama Campaign Reluctant to Give Up Database

Democrats want President Obama’s campaign to release the vast, rich amount of data they gained throughout 2012 for use by statewide and local campaigns. I don’t think they should hold their breath.

From the candidates running in 2014 to the state Democratic parties to progressive advocacy groups, there is an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign afoot to pry from Obamaland its groundbreaking voter database. The data is rich with intricate layers of information about individuals’ voting habits, television viewing tastes, propensity to volunteer, car registration, passions, email address, cellphone numbers, and social media contacts. The historical trove enabled Obama to connect with voters on a highly personal level and get them not only to vote but to actively persuade their neighbors to do the same.

Now that Obama has been reelected, other Democrats are falling over themselves to get their hands on these sophisticated indicators for their own campaigns.

Several top Obama campaign officials, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that no decisions have been made about the data, including where to house it and how to use it to benefit the party.

Those decisions likely won’t be made until closer to the president’s inauguration next month. Among the prime options being discussed by president’s political hands: setting up an independent, not-for-profit entity, run by Obama aides, to manage and keep the electronic files updated so the contacts could be used to further the president’s agenda. Handing over the names to campaigns is not high on the list right now.

Congressional campaigns didn’t get the Obama database in 2008 either, as the 2010 elections made painfully clear. Maybe there was some rationale there, to not dilute the value by handing it over. But the President won’t ever run for another election. And they didn’t exactly utilize the 2008 database to much of a positive effect in governing in the first term. That just sounds like an excuse to guard the data.

The campaign plans to create a “best practices” document that I guess would set guidelines for how to manage campaigns. But that’s a poor substitute for the physical data, which would give candidates a powerful leg up in the midterms.

Obamaland justifies this by saying that the data gained comes from some special attachment to the President, and maybe at a partial level, that’s true. But it speaks more to the demolition of Democratic infrastructure in favor of Obama’s internal networks. The President learned that, when you defund and de-emphasize the progressive infrastructure, suddenly there’s nothing in place to help with a legislative push. So campaign operatives who worked single-mindedly for the benefit of one person’s political future will then turn right around and wade into the governing arena?

MoveOn has downshifted into a glorified petition delivery service. I don’t see anyone rising up to offer an independent, ideological voice as a replacement. As long as the data remains locked up, and the funding channeled to one central source, progressives will have a hard time.

Image by curious yellow under Creative Commons license.

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David Dayen

David Dayen