Campaign database building: supersmart and brilliant, or secretive and evil. It just depends.

Flashback: The New York Times discusses Obama’s use of social media, 2008:

“It was like a guy in a garage who was thinking of taking on the biggest names in the business,” Mr. Andreessen recalled. “What he was doing shouldn’t have been possible, but we see a lot of that out here and then something clicks. He was clearly supersmart and very entrepreneurial, a person who saw the world and the status quo as malleable.”

And as it turned out, President-elect Barack Obama was right.

Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain  and the Republicans.

As a result, when he arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama will have not just a political base, but a database, millions of names of supporters who can be engaged almost instantly. And there’s every reason to believe that he will use the network not just to campaign, but to govern. His e-mail message to supporters on Tuesday night included the line, “We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.” The incoming administration is already open for business on the Web at Change.gov, a digital gateway for the transition. …

Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television, and Howard Dean saw the value of the Web for raising money,” said Ranjit Mathoda, a lawyer and money manager who blogs at Mathoda.com. “But Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command and control method of governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work.”

All of the Obama supporters who traded their personal information for a ticket to a rally or an e-mail alert about the vice presidential choice, or opted in on Facebook or MyBarackObama can now be mass e-mailed at a cost of close to zero. And instead of the constant polling that has been a motor of presidential governance, an Obama White House can use the Web to measure voter attitudes.

Today: The Associated Press releases an “Exclusive” detailing how “Romney uses secretive data-mining“:

Mitt Romney’s success in raising hundreds of millions of dollars in the costliest presidential race ever can be traced in part to a secretive data-mining project that sifts through Americans’ personal information – including their purchasing history and church attendance – to identify new and likely, wealthy donors, The Associated Press has learned.

For the data-mining project, the Republican candidate has quietly employed since at least June a little-known but successful analytics firm that previously performed marketing work for a colleague tied to Bain & Co., the management-consulting firm that Romney once led.

The head of Buxton Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, chief executive Tom Buxton, confirmed to the AP his company’s efforts to help Romney identify rich and previously untapped Republican donors across the country. The Romney campaign declined to discuss on the record its work with Buxton or the project’s overall success.

The project shows that the same strategies corporations use to influence the way we shop and think are now being used to influence presidential elections. The same personal information that we give away, often unwittingly when we swipe our credit cards or log into Facebook, is now being collected by the people who might one day occupy the White House.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

Reader Comments