Thursday, May 17, 2012

Are You in the Koch Brothers Database?

From Reuters:

In 2008, Catalist helped the left win the technology battle. The database allowed unions and the  Obama campaign to manage volunteers without stepping on each other's toes. Meanwhile, analysts could look for patterns in oceans of data that had been held in small pools by separate groups.

Now, Charles and David Koch, who have quietly bankrolled libertarian organizations such as the Cato Institute and the influential Mercatus Center at George Mason University, are behind an effort that aims to do for the right what Catalist did for the left.

Called Themis, the independent group is the most ambitious of the many conservative political technology projects now in development. People with direct knowledge of the group as well as political technology industry veterans say it is backed by the Koch brothers, although their names do not appear on an annual regulatory filing and Koch Industries spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

The Kochs own Koch Industries, the Wichita, Kansas-based natural resources conglomerate that refines oil, produces chemicals and owns the paper products company Georgia-Pacific. Chief Executive Officer Charles Koch and his brother David are worth $25 billion each, according to Forbes.

Themis staffers in their twenties and thirties, clad in jeans and checked shirts, work out of a suite in a nondescript office building in Alexandria, Virginia. City records indicate that the company expanded recently, and a federal filing shows millions of dollars in the bank.

Themis operates like many other Koch projects - in secrecy. A reporter retrieving a federal filing from the company was not allowed inside the unmarked front door, and Themis executives declined or did not respond to requests for comment.

Themis raised $7.7 million in its first year, according to its 2010 return to the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt 501 c(4) organization, which it released this year after successfully petitioning for the maximum possible delay. As a 501 c(4), Themis can work with advocacy groups but cannot coordinate with candidates.

The federal filing does not list financial backers, but people with direct knowledge of the group say it is backed by the Kochs. Ben Pratt, the chief operating officer, describes himself on LinkedIn as a former Koch Industries executive who is now a management consultant and executive coach teaching the business theories developed by Charles Koch.

Themis's ambition to become an analytical powerhouse for the right is clear from its list of business partners, including several heavy hitters in the computer analytics world. Its top contractor in 2010, paid $1.1 million, was voter database company Intell360, which employed former Republican National Committee Network and Online Services Director Steve Ellis at the time, according to LinkedIn.

Intell360's website describes services ranging from finding email and phone numbers for voters to "data mining" for voters likely to respond to tailored messages to targeting ads "down to the zip code, census block or individual level." Neither the company nor Koch Industries responded to requests for comment. Pratt declined to speak when reached by phone.

Despite the vast resources behind it, Themis may find it difficult to reach its goal this year. One person close to the group predicts it will not catch up to the left in the current campaign cycle; the Obama campaign is engaged in complex modeling and scouring social media data for information, people in the industry say. Another conservative data industry person said there is no sign of high-end modeling by Themis.

Themis does not have to catch up to make an impact, though. It is building its database and signing up advocacy groups to use its services and contribute data. The person close to Themis said its work focuses on identifying active supporters - those with a propensity to attend rallies or engage their representatives, for instance - and discovering the "cream of the crop" - persons active in several allied groups.

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