Koch Data Mining Company Helped Inundate Voters With Anti-Immigrant Messages - 2019-09-09
In recent years, Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist megadonor to Republicans and libertarian causes, has carefully recalibrated his public image, releasing a variety of statements to assert that he supports immigration and opposes President Donald Trump's blatant scapegoating of undocumented immigrants and foreigners. At the same time, however, Koch's sprawling political network's in-house technology company has mined consumer data to motivate Republican voters with dehumanizing messages that depict immigrants as an invading army of criminals and potential terrorists. Last year, when many GOP candidates across the country turned to vicious anti-immigrant advertisements to turn out voters in the midterm elections, some turned to i360, Koch's state-of-the-art data analytics company. The company is one of the several appendages of the Koch political machine — one that includes a suite of voter outreach organization, lobbying, and campaign messaging tools. Dozens of GOP candidates for state and federal office contracted with the Koch data company to identify voter segments and push out targeted ads on television and social media in 2018. And the company looks to be expanding its role in GOP campaigns going into 2020; more than a dozen federal candidates list the firm as a contractor. The path to one Republican's successful 2018 Senate run is detailed on i360's website. Then-Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn aired at least four different television advertisements and a wave of social media advertisements focused on immigration, often with false or inflammatory language. She ended up beating out Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who had been leading in the polls for months. "A caravan of 14,000 illegal immigrants is marching on America … gang members, known criminals, people from the Middle East, possibly even terrorists," intoned an ad for Blackburn, flashing images of Hispanic men and warning of a flood of immigrants welcomed by her Democratic opponent, Bredesen. "Phil Bredesen gave driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Phil Bredesen opposes the Trump immigration ban," declared another Blackburn ad. At one point, the ad displays an image of the Middle East and Africa. The messages about the caravan were far-fetched given the fact that there is no evidence that the migrant caravan from Honduras contained any terrorists or members from the Middle East, as fact-checkers noted during the campaign. The driver's license claim was also misleading: Tennessee briefly offered driver's licenses to those without a Social Security number through a 2001 law signed by former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist. The law was later amended and repealed under Bredesen's tenure as governor. "It was Phil Bredesen who lured illegal immigrants to Tennessee," other Blackburn advertisements on television and social media claimed. "The invading force approaching our southern border is seeking to enter the country is wrong," read a grammatically challenged paid advertisement on Facebook posted by the Blackburn campaign. Another promoted post from the Blackburn campaign decried the "illegal alien mob marching on our border."
The Blackburn campaign turned to Koch's i360 company to develop "a series of custom predictive models" to peel Republican voters away from Bredesen.
The ads, crude as they might have appeared, were distributed using an empirical approach to motivating Republican voters. The Blackburn campaign had turned to Koch's i360 company to develop "a series of custom predictive models" to peel Republican voters away from Bredesen, according to a testimonial for potential clients. Blackburn, a firebrand of the religious right who positioned herself as a steadfast ally to Trump and opponent of allowing Muslim refugees into the country, was clearly aligned with Koch priorities. Blackburn also supports judicial appointments favored by the business-friendly Federalist Society, corporate tax cuts, and scaling back most forms of environmental regulations, the criteria on which the Koch network has made its political endorsements historically. Americans for Prosperity, the primary political advocacy arm of the Koch network, founded by Charles's brother David, who passed away in August, and financed by Charles's close-knit group of likeminded business owners, spent $5.6 million to support Blackburn's Senate run through its nonprofit and Super PAC arm. That much is well reported and public. But the role of i360 in guiding the campaign's anti-immigrant messages did not become clear until after the election. The company segmented Republican supporters for Bredesen, a Democrat, using its vast database of voter profiles. The data suggested immigration could be used as a wedge. "From there," the testimonial notes, "i360 further segmented the universe using the Sanctuary Cities model which identified voters likely to oppose Sanctuary City policies like allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers' licenses — a policy Bredesen favored while Governor." The i360 database was integrated into the Blackburn campaign's media strategy. The company's television advertising service, i360 Rabbit Ears, allows campaigns to target television programs and schedules favored by various behavioral profiles. I360 sorts television programs by over 40 voter profiles, including anti-immigrant sentiment. The company refers to this voting bloc as: "Individuals who have a high likelihood of believing that undocumented immigrants should be required to leave the United States."