Second Colorado nonprofit gave thousands to Cambridge Analytica to help GOP candidates

Centennial Coalition gave data firm $16,500
Posted at 12:47 PM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 21:17:04-04

DENVER -- Colorado political nonprofit Centennial Coalition paid data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica $16,500 for “website development and consulting” around the time of the 2014 election, according to tax records obtained by Denver7. 

Cambridge Analytica is currently under scrutiny for allegedly mining the data of more than 50 million Facebook users while employed by the Donald Trump presidential campaign. 

Centennial Coalition is also tied to Concerned Citizens for Colorado, which Denver7 and The Denver Post reported Tuesday also used Cambridge Anayltica in 2014 to try to get Republicans back in the majority in the state Senate. 

The Senate Majority Fund used Concerned Citizens for Colorado to pay Cambridge Analytica $444,000 over a span of two years, in 2014 and 2015, for various political consulting, research and mailing, according to tax records (2014, 2015) obtained by Denver7. Concerned Citizens also paid $10,000 to Cambridge’s parent company, SCL Group, according to the records. The link was first reported Tuesday by The Denver Post.

Cambridge Analytica touted its 2014 work in Colorado on its website, according to screenshots obtained by The Denver Post. “These victories ultimately gave the GOP control over the Colorado state Senate,” the website read in 2015.

Andy George, who ran the Senate Majority Fund’s campaign at the time, told The Denver Post that Cambridge Analytica was exaggerating its claims about the effect it had in Colorado and said “their pitch was better than their performance.”

In a statement George sent to Denver7 Tuesday, George said the fund wouldn’t have worked with Cambridge Analytica had it known the data it was using was questionably obtained.

“Similar to other entities across the country that hired Cambridge Analytica, we were not aware of how they acquired their data and if we knew that it blurred legal and ethical lines, we absolutely would not have hired them,” he said.

But the links between the two Colorado “dark money” companies and Cambridge Analytica weave a tangled web.

The Centennial Coalition is registered as a 501c4 nonprofit in Colorado, but finding information about the company online is difficult. It was formed as an LLC in 2014, with Katie Kennedy of Strategic Compliance LLC as the registered agent.

But within Colorado’s campaign finance portal, the only details that can be found are a $10,234 payment the company made to Wizbang Solutions, a political mailer and marketing company based in Commerce City, in October 2014.

An archived website sheds more light on the company. It shows that the Centennial Coalition claimed it was “a group of normal people, all citizens of Colorado, all concerned about abortion.”

The website focuses on Sen. Andy Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, and what the company says were his “partial birth and gender-selected abortion” ideals. Kerr was among several Democrats targeted as Republicans tried to regain the majority in the state Senate that year. Kerr narrowly won re-election.

Denver7 also obtained mailers sent by the Centennial Coalition during the election, in which the recipients were urged to call Kerr, with a message: “Let’s remind Senator Andy Kerr that Coloradans cherish girls and boys equally and, we don’t support his extreme agenda.”

Other mailers included messages like “Senator Andy Kerr Makes Me Uncomfortable” and “Senator Andy Kerr Doesn’t Play Well With Others.”

“Knowing that there are these very shadowy groups, with foreign connections and very dark political connections nationally, is pretty disturbing,” Kerr told Denver7. “Knowing that my races and some of my colleague’s races have come down to, sometimes, a few hundred votes one way or the other…this kind of data, $400,000 here or there, can have huge impacts.”

But finding the Centennial Coalition in tax records proved more difficult. In a 2014 990-EZ filing for the Centennial Fund, another 501c4 whose registered agent is Kennedy, the Centennial Coalition is only mentioned in a supplemental information report.

In the supplemental report, the $16,500 payment from Centennial Coalition to Cambridge is notated, along with six other payments to various entities, including Kennedy’s Strategic Compliance and nearly $49,000 to Wizbang Solutions.

The filing for the company – made under the name “Centennial Fund” – lists that it started the period with $100,000 in “contributions, gifts, grants, and similar amounts received” and says it spent all but $382 of the money over the next three and half months.

The only other mention of Centennial Coalition found by Denver7 in state tax records comes in the 2014 990 filing by Concerned Citizens for Colorado. In that filing, Concerned Citizens wrote that it gave Centennial Coalition a $100,000 grant for “issue education.”

George told Denver7 Tuesday he didn’t know who the Centennial Coalition was. He did not respond to a follow-up question about why the Centennial Coalition was named in the Concerned Citizens tax filing as receiving the $100,000 grant, the same year the Centennial Coalition spent $100,000.

Kennedy told Denver7 Monday that the Centennial Coalition “did only issue work in 2014 and hasn’t done anything since then” and did not answer questions about the company’s work with Cambridge Analytica. She renewed the Centennial Coalition LLC’s good standing in December 2017, filings show.

“I serve as the accountant and registered agent for these groups and am in charge of the books and filing either their tax returns or state and federal disclosure forms,” she added in an email conversation. “I have no real knowledge of the actual workings of the committees.”

Kennedy is also the registered agent for Concerned Citizens and the Centennial Fund, along with several other high-profile campaign committees and other groups. Those include Cynthia Coffman's and Walker Stapleton’s campaign committees, and the independent expenditure committee backing Stapleton. George now runs that super PAC, Better Colorado Now, for which Kennedy is also the registered agent.

And Concerned Citizens had other high-profile connections in Colorado as well.

Tax documents for the company from 2014 and 2015 show Bill Cadman, who was Senate Minority Leader in 2014 and Senate President in 2015, was among its four employees, which also included Kennedy and Jesse Mallory, who later became Cadman’s chief of staff and now works for Americans for Prosperity. Mark Scheffel was listed as the fourth employee.

Only Kennedy and Mallory were paid by the company, however, and the amount of time each spent working for the company each week was less than 10 hours per week, according to the filings.

Cadman and Mallory could not immediately be reached for comment. Mallory declined to comment to The Denver Post.

The 2014 spending on Cambridge Analytica by Concerned Citizens amounted to approximately one-third of its total spending that year, according to tax records. The 2015 payments to Cambridge Analytica constituted about one-third of its spending that year as well.

The Denver Post reports that the state’s Republican Party chairman at the time also met with Cambridge Analytica representatives in 2014 but said the asking price was too high. Another Loveland-based political consultant who worked for the company also pitched most of the bigger GOP candidates running in the state that year, The Post reports.

Cambridge Analytica suspended its top executive in the wake of recent reports, and Facebook’s stock has plummeted as it struggles to control the public outrage over data concerns. Obama officials have pushed back against some who tried to compare their work to Cambridge Analytica's work. Government officials in the U.S. and U.K. are urging top officials from both companies to comply with inquests into how the data was obtained and used.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released his first public statement about the company's connection with Cambridge Analytics Wednesday afternoon and promised changes to protect user data like the information Cambridge Analytica obtained.