Emails have been in the news a lot this election – Hillary’s from the time she was Secretary of State, Trump’s for possibly communicating with Russian banks, and Congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s for his campaign’s alleged theft of contact lists from Rep. Mike Honda.
Well let’s add another possible email offender to the list, Stand Up for Santa Clara.
Last February I found I got dragged into the campaign email story when I, my wife, and others discovered we were on Khanna’s campaign email system – without ever signing up. This was traced back to an email sent to the members of the Santa Clara County Democratic Club. When I complained to the club, they contacted the Khanna Campaign.
It turned out that a January 27 email to the club’s membership wasn’t sent as a blind copied email and showed all the members’ email addresses, the club’s leadership explained in an email.
Khanna received the message in his personal Gmail account – he’s a member of the club – and all the recipients were added to his contacts list. When he, in turn, sent an email to the club members, these contacts were automatically added to the campaign email list.
“This wasn’t a conscious attempt to use the club membership list it was automatically triggered by sending his message to a public email list from his private account,” the email continued.
“To avoid unwanted campaign emails, the campaign voluntarily went through [the Jan. 27] recipients’ list and is now removing from the campaign email list anyone who is either a known Honda supporter or with an unknown preference in this race. Brian told me that they would be doing those removals tonight.”
We were never removed from the list and I continued to receive campaign emails until just a few weeks ago.
In the course of this, I realized that the software connected to Khanna’s personal Gmail account ran the contacts through the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) database before adding them to the campaign’s email system. This could be a violation of FEC regulations against using FEC data for fundraising purposes
I contacted the FEC and they asked me to send them my complaint and evidence. It was deemed appropriate to be within the jurisdiction of the FEC and is currently under review.
But that experience set me on the trail of the data mining software that’s busy 24/7 figuring out what we might buy, where we might go on vacation, and in this case, how we can be persuaded to vote a certain way. One platform that’s tailored for political and fundraising campaigns is RevUp.
RevUp Draws Pictures for Campaigns to Target
RevUp is an online service created by Ro Khanna’s Campaign Chair, Steven Spinner. It is based on a fundraising strategy called “bundling” – conceived by Karl Rove to avoid the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations banning corporations from giving directly to Federal candidates. Candidates enter their contact lists and the software spiders through consumer data, political, and charitable contributions creating profiles of possible donors.
“You may know that your colleague drives a Prius and seems like she might support Sanders,” wrote Bloomberg News last March. “RevUp can tell you that she also went to Stanford, joined the Sierra Club, loves skiing and poodles, and wrote Bernie a $500 check last fall.”
It appears both Khanna and his former campaign manager Brian Parvizshahi were connected to RevUp through their personal Gmail accounts, according to the complaint filed against them in federal court last month. Using the email lists, however acquired, they contacted people from their personal Gmail accounts with messages framed to match the profiles created by RevUp.
If you’re a Bernie Sanders supporter, you might get, “The DNC and establishment is trying to keep me from winning, I need your help.” Or perhaps you buy a lot of tech gadgets or work at a tech company. You might get, “I have wide support from Silicon Valley and the Tech industry.” And if you are a Honda supporter you received, “I’ve always respected Mike Honda, but ….” A few days after being contacted by Khanna or Parvizshahi you’re automatically added to the campaign’s email system.
Stand Up for Santa Clara Finds My Inbox
Without being a resident of Santa Clara or having any connection to the candidates running for City Council, I began receiving emails from Stand Up for Santa Clara, LLC. The emails were negative ads attacking some of the City Council candidates. By email I inquired how their group acquired my email address, and if they could verify their status as a Limited Liability Corporation since they did not appear registered as such with the Secretary of State.
My email was ignored.
Suspecting a connection to the Khanna Campaign’s previous acquisition and use of my contact information without permission, I attempted to find the connection to the group. At least two individuals associated with the site had strong connections to Khanna.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor endorsed Khanna and rents office space to his campaign, according to FEC reports. City council candidate Kathleen Watanabe is one of Khanna’s most ardent supporters and is credited with introducing him to Santa Clara’s political insiders – and possibly to Stand Up for Santa Clara. Others have complained about finding their Facebook profile pictures on the organization’s landing page without having signed up as supporters.
So when Khanna exclaimed at Watanabe’s Campaign kick-off that he was “all in” as were his “campaign team Brian [Parvizshahi] and Kevin [Fox, Khanna’s Santa Clara field director,]” one can only wonder how much help they provided. Email lists, the RevUp software and campaign man-hours all have monetary values, yet no campaigns have declared any such in-kind contributions received or given.
A dive into my political data would reveal a handful of donations to liberal candidates and causes. And my consumer data could show many lunches bought in Santa Clara, the location of my recent work. And I’ve never attended a 49ers game at their new stadium.
It seems RevUp might see my profile as somebody interested in a group like Stand Up for Santa Clara. To be honest, if I believed they were still fighting for a kids’ soccer field or they hadn’t stolen my contact info, I probably would be a supporter.
Glen Shaffer is a local activist and citizen blogger (Glen the Plumber) on Daily Kos