This is the story of how the Trump campaign used data to target African Americans and young women with $150 million dollars of Facebook and Instagram advertisements in the final weeks of the election, quietly launching the most successful digital voter suppression operation in American history.
Throughout the campaign, President-Elect Donald J. Trump shrewdly invested in Facebook advertisements to reach his supporters and raise campaign donations. Facing a short-fall of momentum and voter support in the polls, the Trump campaign deployed its custom database, named Project Alamo, containing detailed identity profiles on 220 million people in America.
With Project Alamo as ammunition, the Trump digital operations team covertly executed a massive digital last-stand strategy using targeted Facebook ads to ‘discourage’ Hillary Clinton supporters from voting. The Trump campaign poured money and resources into political advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, the Facebook Audience Network, and Facebook data-broker partners.
I just learned that the suspicious and misleading robocalls from “Lamont Williams” to North Carolina voters, were actually the work of Women’s Voices, Women Vote. WVWV is an organization that works to empower single female voters, and which I used to support. Turns out they have a habit of sending poorly-timed voter registration information, causing thousands of voters to mistakenly think they are not registered to vote!
WUNC’s Laura Leslie posted the audio of the robocall on her blog on Monday, but as far as I can tell has not actually done a story about it. (She’s probably too busy begging for money. Way to schedule a pledge drive at the height of our primary, WUNC!)
Today I read a long investigative piece by my friend Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies that shows that WVWV was behind this, and that they have been confusing voters all over the nation with their automated phone calls and voter registration packets. “Women’s Voices’ questionable tactics have spawned thousands of voter complaints in at least 11 states and brought harsh condemnation from some election officials for their secrecy, misleading nature and likely violations of election law.”
WVWV claims that their campaign in North Carolina was designed to get unregistered, single, female voters to register to vote in the November general election. However, there is overwhelming evidence indicating quite the opposite. For example:
- The voice on the calls is a male calling himself “Lamont Williams.” Not exactly ideal for the supposedly female target audience.
- Many of the people who received the calls are married, male, and/or already registered.
- WVWV is no newcomer to politics. They have been operating since at least the 2004 election. They are a well-funded organization with a savvy staff. The two top leaders each have at least two decades of political experience a piece. (One as Congressman David Price’s ’96 campaign manager – the one year Price lost.)
- In fact, many WVWV staff and advisors gained experience working for the Clinton Whitehouse. For example, board member John Podesta (President and CEO of the Center for American Progress) served as President Clinton’s Chief of Staff for over two years.
- There is no way that these seasoned political operatives could have missed the fact of our prominent May 6 primary, or that anyone with experience in voter engagement wouldn’t be fully aware of the timing involved.
I can only logically conclude that they are either intentionally suppressing voters (in an Obama-friendly state, hmm) or are criminally negligent and unable to carry out their stated mission of “Improving unmarried women’s participation in the electorate and policy process.” Either way, the only responsible step I can imagine is immediately cease operations and consider whether to reorganize or disband this organization.
WVWV’s President Page Garder re-posted her press release as a blog entry over on Huffington Post. Let’s let her know what we think of it.