Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Curious Case of CREDO's Corporate, Democratic, Data-Driven Super PAC and "The Tea Party 10"

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, November 26 2012

CREDO Super PAC's 3,000 volunteers made thousands of calls and door-knocks to unseat Tea Party Republicans

After the Associated Press finally called the race for Ami Bera, the 47-year-old long-shot Democrat running for California’s newly-redrawn 7th Congressional District, CREDO SuperPAC’s National New Media Director Andy Kelley posted a celebratory photo of a couple of tall glasses of cold beer on his Facebook account and wrote: “Tonight we drink from the keg of victory.”

It looked like a smug post, but for the CREDO SuperPAC team, the past 11 months had been a hard slog. Unlike most other super PACs of the 2012 election cycle, the team decided to focus on field organizing efforts rather than television ads. Those field efforts eventually spanned 11 different congressional districts across the country, meaning that the SuperPAC had to effectively run 11 field campaigns against 11 Republican members of Congress that are favored by the Tea Party. By the end of the campaign season, CREDO had 80 full-time organizers.

Bera is a physician going to Congress for the first time but only after taking his second run against the nine-term Republican incumbent, Dan Lungren. His 2010 race against Lungren was pegged as potentially competitive, and Lungren won with just over 50 percent of the vote while third-party candidates split the seven points between Bera and a closer finish. The 2012 race was closer still: The AP hadn’t called it until November 15, when Bera won 51.1 percent of the votes compared to Lungren’s 48.9 percent. Lungren had been in CREDO’s sights since April, when the super PAC began accusing him of extremist views. CREDO hit Lungren on issues that would resonate with specific demographic groups, such as seniors, university students, and women. They charged that he was against marriage equality for gays and lesbians, voted to end Medicare “as we know it” by voting for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, voted to defund Planned Parenthood — CREDO being the largest corporate contributor to Planned Parenthood — and voted to cut Pell Grants for a third of the University of California’s undergraduates. The accusations piled up.

All of those messages might sound like typical liberal fare, but they had been carefully tested by CREDO. CREDO also decided to back Bera and 10 other candidates after it surveyed its activist base of three million customers asking them whether they would volunteer in a national campaign to unseat these particular Republicans, said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO Mobile, the phone company that established the SuperPAC and directed the more than year-long campaign. Bond said that there were many factors that went into picking the candidates, but the ultimate deciding factor was the availability of volunteers. CREDO only set up campaign offices in districts where it determined that it could count on a significant enough number of volunteers to show up and help to deliver its messages.

Looking ahead to future cycles, Democrats are becoming more comfortable with the idea of super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in uncoordinated support or opposition of any candidate. CREDO's emerging model, which raised $3.5 million to fund a data-driven, field-oriented campaign in 11 House races — including five races where Tea Party Republicans were replaced with progressive-backed Democrats — may help to explain why.

Bond said that CREDO had worked with the a graduate student named David Broockman in the political science department at Berkeley to engage in randomized, controlled experiments to test messages that would resonate with voters. Broockman was a student of Columbia University’s Don Green, author of “Get Out The Vote.” They called a few hundred voters plucked out of the voter file and surveyed them on how much they knew about politics, and also tested a couple of different messages on them. They also called a few weeks after those initial questions to ask who they would vote for.

“We were trying to figure out what would move low-information voters,” Bond said in an interview. “We were able to discover what types of voters we would move, and also what messages would most likely move them.”

“Based on those results, we decided that we would target women who had a certain score range on the Catalist file, and who had a lower propensity to turn out,” Bond said. Catalist provides data on voters to left-leaning causes and organizations. Between it and NGP VAN, which handles voter data for the Democratic Party and its chosen candidates, left-leaning initiatives that can afford it generally don't go for want of usable voter data. “Then for the turnout phase of the campaign, we turned to women who were IDed who we suspected on the partisanship scale would vote for our candidate, then we just worked really hard to turn them out.”

Working hard meant having volunteers follow an Analyst Institute-written get-out-the-vote script near the end of the campaign: Knocking on the doors of people who had previously voted, thanking them for voting, asking them whether they could be counted on to vote for the Democrat in the race, and telling them that a lot of people in their district are turning out. The script also called for volunteers to ask voters what their plans were to get to the polling place, and if they didn’t have a ride, to offer them one.

Like any other modern political campaign, CREDO used email and Facebook pages to run its messaging, but that was all in the service of growing its field efforts, Bond said.

“Being involved in online politics isn’t about not having to deal with people,” Bond said. “It’s about having to deal with a lot of people. When it comes down to it, it’s not having things happen via remote control via social media. The gold standard is having something happen in person which started online.”

Bond attributes the “lion’s share” of the winning votes to the candidates’ campaigns themselves, but she argued that outside field campaigns can make a difference in close races.

Indeed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has taken credit for “Reversing the Tea Party Wave,” with its own fundraising efforts and field campaign for candidates. The DCCC has said that it had 910 field staff in 63 districts across 26 states.

Nevertheless, Bond argued that CREDO’s work filled a gap by having its full-time staff of 40 and volunteers spending a lot of time talking to voters in person.

“The way we think about it is that the sheer number of high-quality contacts at the scale that we did can move a certain amount of voters,” she said.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.


tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.


friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.


The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.