Just when we thought the Hawkeye Hork was bad enough for Democrats, along comes this link to Democrats’ previous national faceplant. The app that caused some — not all, but some — of the problems in Iowa yesterday came from an outfit called Shadow. Four of its top executives recently worked for … wait for it …
Shadow, a tech firm that describes itself as a group that creates “a permanent advantage for progressive campaigns and causes through technology,” is the company that created the Iowa Democratic Party’s app, according to The New York Times. At least the COO, CEO, CTO and a senior product manager at Shadow all worked for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, according to LinkedIn profiles.
Shadow is associated with ACRONYM, a nonprofit dedicated to “advancing progressive causes through innovative communications, advertising and organizing programs.” Early last year, ACRONYM announced that it was acquiring an SMS tool called Groundbase and, out of Groundbase, “launching Shadow, a company focused on building the technology infrastructure needed to enable Democrats to run better, more efficient campaigns.”
Groundbase co-founders Krista Davis, who is the current Shadow CTO, and Gerard Niemira, who is the current Shadow CEO, both held senior positions with the Clinton campaign.
HuffPost corroborated some of this reporting from Fox News, but also threw in a Barack Obama link to boot. ACRONYM, meanwhile, is hitting reverse on its association with Shadow:
Gerard Niemira, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is the head of Shadow. He previously served as chief technology officer and chief operating officer of ACRONYM, according to his LinkedIn page. In 2019, David Plouffe, one of the chief architects of President Barack Obama’s wins, joined the board of advisers for ACRONYM.
ACRONYM spokesman Kyle Tharp put out a statement distancing the group from Shadow, saying that ACRONYM is merely an investor in the for-profit company.
Let’s pause here for a moment to just consider the names of these outfits. They sound like rejected ideas from the original Daniel Craig reboot of the James Bond franchise. “What should we call the villainous global conspiracy?” “How about Shadow?” “Naah, too on the nose. Why not ACRONYM?” “Er … is ACRONYM supposed to be an acronym for something else, or what?” “You’re right, let’s just stick with S.P.E.C.T.R.E.” If Democrats want to look creepy and suspicious, they’re certainly choosing the right branding.
The rumors of connections to the Democrats’ erstwhile Hillary Blofeld might have gone one step too far, however. Robby Mook, Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, vehemently denied last night that he had a hand in developing Shadow:
Sorry, folks. I did NOT have anythjng to do with building the Iowa caucus app. I dont know anything about it, had no role in it, and dont own a company that makes mobile appa. Please contact @iowademocrats with questions about it.
— Robby Mook (@RobbyMook) February 4, 2020
That denial generated some pushback of its own, as the Des Moines Register and USA Today had previously reported Mook’s involvement in the Iowa Democrats’ planning and execution of the app’s Caucus Night operations:
What’s this? pic.twitter.com/kneennmbzG
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) February 4, 2020
— Jenn Spriggs (@pixeltheories) February 4, 2020
Was Mook Shadow? Or ACRONYM? Or S.P.E.C.T.R.E? None of the above, as it turns out; the DMR story didn’t actually link Mook to the app itself. Rather, he worked as a consultant to both parties in Iowa on app development:
Both parties in Iowa and their app and web development vendors partnered last fall with Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project to develop strategies and systems to protect results and deal with any misinformation that’s reported on caucus night.
They worked with campaign experts Robby Mook and Matt Rhodes — as well as experts in cybersecurity, national security, technology and election administration — and simulated the different ways that things could go wrong on caucus night.
Too bad — Mook would have made the Hillary connection golden.
Anyway, the Democrats can’t afford to look backward at this point. Right now, they have to look to the future, especially in Nevada, where rumor has it that a Shadow may have also fallen:
The same app used in Iowa last night, developed for the Iowa Democratic Party by @ShadowIncHQ, is also due to be used in Nevada, a source confirms to CNN.
— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) February 4, 2020
That’s also not confirmed, but Fox noted that Nevada Democrats did pay Shadow $60,000 last August. Presumably that wasn’t just for consulting. Whatever the original plans were, Democrats in Nevada made it clear that Shadow won’t be in their immediate future:
Nevada State Democratic Party on their upcoming caucuses:
"We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus. We had already developed a series of backups and redundant reporting systems, and are currently evaluating the best path forward."
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) February 4, 2020
However, as Jazz pointed out earlier, it’s far from clear that the app was the sole reason for last night’s fiasco, or even the main reason. Caucus organizers had paper ballots too, and thus far haven’t been able to produce reliable counts from those either. That doesn’t sound like an app failure.
So who is to blame? Only the Shadow knows, apparently.