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For Democrats, Imitation Not Exactly a Form of Flattery

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, February 5 2014

Democrats created a website mocking republicans' attempt at an in-house tech incubator (screenshot)

Democratic organizers are not impressed with a new Republican National Committee (RNC) effort to catch up with the Democratic data advantage. They have responded to the RNC's new in-house technology incubator called Para Bellum Labs with a parody website at a similar web address.

The Wall Street Journal's Patrick O'Connor reported Tuesday that the RNC was launching the start-up to combine its data-analytics efforts with its digital-marketing efforts in an effort to match the Democrats' success in that area. The article noted that Para Bellum is Latin for "prepare for war." The article emphasized that a big priority for RNC Chief Data Officer Azarias Reda and others involved with the effort is the recruitment of top engineering talent.

“Para Bellum Labs is something that has never been done before – top talent to power elections for the good of the entire Republican Party,” Chief Digital Officer Chuck DeFeo said in a press release. "When it comes to recruiting top talent, our competition isn’t the Democratic Party—it’s the Facebooks, LinkedIns, and Googles of the world. We’re pushing the envelope by building products to win elections while creating a young and engaged image for the Republican Party," the press release quoted Reda.

The website for the initiative, at http://parabellumlabs.com, states:

We are a unique startup incubated within the Republican National Committee, and we are building the best political data engineering team in the world. Our team is creating data products and digital platforms to understand public opinion, engage voters and power elections. We work on projects that reach every voter in our country, and we appreciate that our work will have significant impact on American politics for years to come.

The launch of Para Bellum included a glossy video showing the young, tech-savvy looking team at work. "What we want to do here at Para Bellum is create a platform that's unmatched by anything that's out there today when it comes to running elections...and we are here to push the envelope when it comes to how you manage, analyze and take advantage of data," Reda says in the video.

But that's not the message of a very similar looking web site at http://parabellumlabs.org, which includes an "Internet users guide from 1990" YouTube video and states the following:

We are a unique startup incubated within the Republican National Committee, and we are trying to duplicate what was the best political data engineering team in the world. Our team is copying data products and digital platforms to understand public opinion, engage voters and power elections. We work on projects that reach every voter in our country, and we appreciate that Democrats' work will have significant impact on American politics for years to come.

The website is credited to Camden Lee, a digital manager at USAction, and Eric Ming, a digital manager at the New Organizing Institute.

While the original site has a long list of jobs the initiative is hiring for including data science engineers, software engineers and data analysts, the .org site has job listings for "Microsite Copier," Fraudulent Website Designer," "Democratic Copy Copier," "Defunct Application Developer," and "Director of Outreach Overreach," all linking to news stories of instances when Republican campaign efforts seemed to directly copy Democratic online efforts and recalling the problems with the Romney campaign's troubled Orca system.

Where the original websites emphasizes its goals of "engaging voters," having a "measurable impact" and an "open culture," the .org site explains it is "[engaging voters by] using every method possible to silence their voices. Whether that’s massive amounts of money from rich billionaires and SuperPACs, cutting early voting, or putting restrictive voter ID requirements in place." Under "measurable impact," the .org site notes "We copy. It’s unlikely we measure. We really are doing our best! Our products were great when Dems built them," and adds under "open culture" that "We are committed to a culture of exclusivity. We are looking for people (preferably white?) who believe like we do that the best way to innovate is to copy what Democrats have built."

The original site, under "Why work for us," explains that "we are looking for smart and talented people who are passionate about creating data products that will transform politics in our country...We come from diverse backgrounds, but we are all passionate about transforming the future of politics in America and the Republican Party."

On the .org site, "Why work for us" links to a news article about the Romney campaign cancelling its staffers' credit cards on election night.