Local Republican candidates for the Alabama Legislature are getting help from a data-mining operation that boasts having 1,800 nuggets of information apiece on 199 million active voters.
And at least one local Democratic campaign is sending volunteers door-to-door with an app that crunches similar numbers into a single rating of a voter's likelihood of voting Democratic.
"We can see if this family has scored 78 or 90 points before we even go in," said Jacob Ray, campaign manager for Mallory Hagan, the Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
Data mining, the process of examining large databases of personal information to find customers or voters, has been part of nationwide campaigns for office for quite some time. The data firm Cambridge Analytica famously used data from Facebook likes and other digital breadcrumbs to assemble thousands of data points on millions of voters in the 2016 presidential election.
Campaign finance reports show a similar form of data collection is now available to candidates in races at the state level. At least 50 Republican candidates in this year's elections have recorded in-kind contributions — gifts of services, not money — from MACC PAC, a political action committee set up by House Speaker Mac McCutcheon. All those contributions are in amounts of either $555.62 or $238.10.
It's not unusual in recent years for party leaders to set up PACs to buy services that are shared by multiple candidates. Four years ago, a group called Alabama 2014 PAC bought polling and consulting services for Republicans across the state.
MACC PAC, meanwhile, has paid money to consultants, to the conservative website Yellowhammer News and i360, a data-mining company set up by billionaires Charles and David Koch.
On its website, i360 states that it has collected 1,800 data points on 199 million voters — data that includes consumer information and data from membership and donor organizations.
The company is also able to divide voters into smaller groups that campaigners can target. According to a document on the company's website, those segments can tell campaigners whether a voter is a veteran, has asthma, likes camping or buys science fiction books, among other things.
Attempts to reach staff at i360 were unsuccessful Friday.
Lobbyist Steve Raby, who runs MACC PAC for McCutcheon, said in a telephone interview last week that the company is indeed providing i360’s services to Republican House candidates. He said the PAC used the data to buy targeted online ads for local candidates — for instance, ads on Yellowhammer tailored to the district the viewer is in.
Raby said the PAC also allowed local candidates access to data and other services only a statewide candidate would be able to afford. He said the PAC would help any GOP House candidate.
“Those that want it, can have it,” he said.
Incumbent Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, is among the candidates getting help from the PAC. He said the i360 help includes access to an app that canvassers can use when they’re approaching potential voters.
“It lets you know when they voted, how they probably voted and things like that,” Wood said. Asked if the app showed more detailed lifestyle information, Wood said the information seemed to be “strictly political.”
Democrats have a similar app, but use of it seems to be much less widespread among the party’s cash-strapped local candidates.
Ray, the Hagan spokesman, said the Democratic congressional candidate uses NGP VAN, a private, Democratic-affiliated database. Campaign workers can access voter information from the group through an app called Minivan, Hagan campaign workers said.
It’s unclear whether NGP VAN is as detailed as i360 in its data collection. The company doesn’t cite that information on its website. Ray said the data included public census data and traditional voter information.
Candidates have a little more than three weeks to seek out those voters. The election will be held Nov. 6.