Internal Cambridge Analytica documents suggest wider role in Colorado's 2014 Senate race

Posted at 7:45 PM, Mar 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-27 01:24:44-04

DENVER – Internal documents from data firm Cambridge Analytica provide more detail into the work it did with Colorado Republicans in 2014, when the Senate GOP’s top political arm used the company’s data to successfully retake the state Senate.

In a post-election report, Cambridge Analytica said its products and services “made a substantial contribution” to the election, in which Republicans regained control of the Senate for the first time since 2004.

Denver7 broke the news last week that a Colorado political nonprofit, Centennial Coalition, was one of two nonprofits to use Cambridge Analytica for various services in the months leading up to the 2014 election.

The other, Concerned Citizens for Colorado, was the primary nonprofit used by the Senate Majority Fund, and provided a $100,000 grant to Centennial Coalition as part of a mailer and advertising campaign against five districts targeted by Senate Republicans.

In all, Concerned Citizens paid Cambridge Analytica $444,000 in 2014 and 2015, while Centennial Coalition paid the company $16,500. Both wrote in tax records obtained by Denver7 that Cambridge Analytica was used for consulting and website development, among other things. Concerned Citizens also paid SCL, the parent company of Cambridge’s, $10,000, according to the tax records.

Cambridge Analytica is now under heavy scrutiny in the U.S. and U.K. for its political activities and the questionably-obtained data it used, which Facebook says Cambridge obtained in violation of its terms of service.

Facebook itself is now also in hot water. On Monday, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined 36 other attorneys general in demanding the company turn over information on its business practices and how it protects users’ privacy. The FTC also said it was investigating the company.

Documents show races targeted by GOP, Cambridge

New documents first obtained and published over the weekend by The Washington Post show how the company worked in Colorado, issues it said it had with local staff, and the extent to which it went to try and help the GOP regain the Senate.

The internal documents show that Cambridge’s work in Colorado started with Bill Cadman, who is linked to both nonprofits by the tax documents and was Senate Minority Leader in 2014, then Senate President in 2015 after the party's victory.

According to the data firm’s documents, Cadman provided Cambridge and SCL with seven state Senate races that he thought Republicans could win in 2014.

Cambridge Analytica was asked to identify the four most-winnable races from the list, which the company eventually picked as Senate districts 16, 19, 20 and 24. The company had originally picked the 3rd district rather than the 19th, but the company documents show the 19th was chosen in the end “after Senate Cadman and his staff expressed a special interest in working with the candidate in that district due to her demonstrated aptitude for campaigning.”

In the 19th, which covers mostly Westminster and Arvada, Laura J. Woods squared off with Rachel Zenzinger.

Republican Tim Neville did battle with incumbent Democrat Jeanne Nicholson in the 16th district, which covers the Denver foothills and parts of Denver.

In the 20th, which covers Lakewood, Wheat Ridge and parts of Arvada, Republican Larry Queen squared off with Democratic incumbent Cheri Jahn and Libertarian Chris Heismann.

And in the 24th district, which covers primarily Northglenn and Thornton, Republican Beth Martinez Humenik faced Democrat Judy Solano. But that contest was not one of Cadman’s first choices, according to the documents, which say Cadman and his team “were initially unsatisfied” with Cambridge choosing the district.

“We were eventually able to use the data to illustrate that it presented a better opportunity for achieving a Republican victory than other options,” the documents say.

As Denver7 previously reported, Centennial Coalition was also used in the 2014 race, though according to the documents, it was not used in any of the four districts initially targeted by Cambridge Analytica and was added later.

Centennial Coalition used Cambridge data to make fliers in the District 22 race, in which Democrat Andy Kerr was being challenged by Republican Tony Sanchez. Centennial Coalition sent out anti-Kerr mailers targeting his abortion stances. Kerr narrowly won reelection that year by a margin of around 1,300 votes.

In the new documents, Cambridge Analytica claimed that even though Sanchez eventually lost, the company’s data signaled Kerr would have won in a landslide had it not been for their efforts.

“The modeling predicted a Democratic win by a significant margin (in the region of fifteen percent), and SCL designed and disseminated a complete package of communications products as well as implementing a program of telephone canvassing,” the company’s analysis says. The tax document Denver7 obtained showing Centennial Coalition’s payment to Cambridge did not show payments to SCL, though the 990 for Concerned Citizens did.

Cambridge says it had some issues in Colorado before working on dozens of mail pieces

While the new documents show Cambridge was in the end pleased with the work it did in Colorado, they also show that state GOP staffers had some issues with the firm in the first days of their partnership.

“Though there were some initial issues related to the practicalities of integrating the CA-SCL team into the pre-existing campaign structures, the venture was ultimately successful,” the document says.

It goes on to say that there was some confusion between Cambridge, SCL and the aides on the state level, and that the aides “had limited understanding of what CA-SCL was providing.”

But the company said the confusion was “overcome” later in the report. “It may be worth considering whether there are other ways to present data that could be more familiar to local staff,” the documents show.

Also listed among a portion of the document showing “initial difficulties” was a bullet point saying the Senate Majority Fund was “reticent to share [its] own voter IDA data and strategy with the CA-SCL team.”

Cadman’s initial displeasure with the 24th district being selected was another bullet point on the list, and Cambridge also listed “teething problems” involving a platform it was using that caused some activities to be performed “with assistance from the data teams in London and Victoria,” the documents show.

The Senate Majority Fund also requested that its own printer be used for all mailers, according to the documents. The tax records for Concerned Citizens and Centennial Coalition both list payments to Commerce City-based printing and advertising company Wizbang Solutions.

Effects of Cambridge Analytica’s work still questionable

Andy George, who ran the Senate Majority Fund’s campaign at the time, told The Denver Post last week that Cambridge’s “pitch was better than their performance,” and told Denver7 in a statement last week that he wasn’t aware of how Cambridge Analytica had acquired its data, and if the Senate Majority Fund had been, it wouldn’t have hired the company.

Only a handful of mailers were known to have been sent by the two nonprofits that used Cambridge Analytica that year, but the new documents show the company may have been behind many more.

“In total, the team designed over 80 pieces of targeted direct mail, working with operatives from the Senate Majority Fund to physically produce and disseminate these to the voting population,” the documents show.

They also show that Cambridge Analytica touted that its team, in Colorado, delivered on “profiles of voters in modelled issue and personality clusters,” “redesigned Senate Majority Fund website,” and made “446 lists of voters generated for targeted communications.”

George did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the new documents. Cadman could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the documents state that Cadman did provide a response to Cambridge Analytica about its work.

“Informal feedback received from Senator Cadman indicated that he was very pleased with the literature produced by the CA-SCL team, which was described as some of the best he had ever seen,” the document reads.

Ultimately, despite narrow losses in districts 20 and 22, Senate Republicans were able to flip the three seats they needed to regain the majority. Neville beat Nicholson by about 1,900 votes in District 16; Woods defeated Zenzinger by less than 600 votes in District 19; and Martinez Humenik defeated Solano by less than 1,000 votes.

Martinez Humenik told The Denver Post she didn’t know about Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the campaign, but Solano told The Post she and others were surprised when they lost.

And according to the documents, Cambridge also used two organizations, Jobs Growth and Freedom Fund and For America, to post online ads against “gun-free zones” and Mark Udall, who was Cory Gardner’s U.S. Senate opponent at the time. Gardner also narrowly won re-election, though it’s unknown what the scope of the ads were.

That said, Cambridge was pleased with its work.

 “The CA-SCL team in Colorado was able to make a major contribution to victories in three of the five State Senate races we engaged with, and results for Republican candidates in the other two were better than our modeling or client expectations would have predicted,” the document states, also saying that its work should lead to “a similarly positive impact on other campaigns in the future, and with a definitive tag-line:

“Overall this a very positive result, and one of the victories gave the GOP control over the Colorado State Senate.”