State Democratic parties may sell voter data to for-profit companies (updated)

State Democratic parties including the Iowa Democratic Party are considering selling “information about voters’ views and preferences” to for-profit corporations, according to an important story Lois Beckett reported this week at ProPublica. Newly-elected leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party either declined or did not respond to ProPublica’s multiple requests for comment while Beckett was working on the piece. Iowa Democratic Party staff did not respond to my request for comment on this report yesterday.

UPDATE: Thursday morning, state party executive director Troy Price responded, “The Iowa Democratic Party maintains ultimate control of its data, and pursuant to Iowa Democratic Party policy, as well as state law, we will never sell this data to an entity for commercial purposes.” Having done canvassing for various candidates and spoken with many other Democratic canvassers, I am very glad to hear that news. Other state party leaders would be wise to follow the same policy.

I recommend reading Beckett’s whole article. I’ve posted a few excerpts after the jump.

From Lois Beckett, Will Democrats Sell Your Political Opinions to Credit Card Companies?

State Democratic party leaders formed the National Voter File Co-op in 2011 to sell their voter data to approved groups like the NAACP. The goal was to recoup some of the money local Democratic parties spent collecting and updating their local voter lists, which include voters of all parties.


As the co-op moves into its second year of selling data in an already crowded marketplace, it’s looking for new potential clients – and companies who may use the data for commercial purposes, as opposed to political ones, are on the list.

“That’s one of our growth areas,” said Drew Brighton of TargetSmart Communications, which helps administer and market the Co-op’s data. “Over the next six months, we are going to go ahead and make the rounds with some corporate prospects.”

[…] Each state Democratic Party will have the final say over whether to sell their voter information for commercial purposes. If state party leaders aren’t comfortable with selling proprietary data to a certain client, they can opt out.

Individual states have different laws about how their public voting records can be used. Many states mandate that public voter rolls can only be used for “political purposes,” and some states explicitly ban using voting records for “commercial purposes.” The co-op and its clients must abide by these rules.

But state political data laws do not apply to the information about voters that the party itself has gathered.

“Generally, information freely provided to the party by the voter, or data about who participated in a primary [that the party collects] is not subject to any prohibition on it being sold,” said Karl Sandstrom, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and an attorney for the co-op.

This means Democrats are free to sell the opinions voters give to campaign canvassers to credit card companies or marketing firms.

  • Bad, bad idea

    This seems like a terrible idea. First, it reduces the likelihood someone will talk to canvassers if they expect their data to be passed to credit card companies. Second, opening up access to the data makes it more likely important info will make its way to the opposition.

    Money should be spent investing in data regardless of whether it’s possible to recoup any of it. It’s one of the most valuable resources a party/campaign can have. Getting greedy in this manner is likely to actually reduce the value of the data the parties already have.

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