Was Kay Hagan robbed?

by | Mar 20, 2018 | 2014 Elections, Editor's Blog | 23 comments

It seems like every shady idea Republicans have to rig elections is tried out in North Carolina first. We had the most extreme gerrymandering in the nation following the reapportionment in 2011. We had the most extreme voter suppression program that “would target African Americans with almost surgical precision” to limit access to the polls for people who might disagree with the Republican agenda. Now, it looks we might have been victim of a voter manipulation scheme that played on voters fears and prejudices using data stolen from Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica, a shadowy data firm that started in Great Britain, used North Carolina as its testing ground to manipulate voters. They brag on their web site that they used data to motivate 128,000 GOP-leaning voters to go to the polls in the US Senate race in 2014 that Thom Tillis won by less than 50,000 votes. . Revelations this week indicate that the data may have been stolen from Facebook users without their consent or knowledge.

According to campaign finance reports, the Tillis campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000 and the NC GOP paid them $150,000. WRAL reports that the GOP was the firm’s fourth largest client in 2014. Rep. Patrick McHenry also paid the firm $15,000. Neither Tillis nor McHenry has responded to reporters. The firm was key in helping Donald Trump win in 2016 and helped Brexit pass in Great Britain.

So how might the firm have influenced the election here? Let’s go back to 2014. Incumbent Kay Hagan held a consistent but narrow lead over Tillis for most of the election cycle in an environment that was tough for Democrats across the nation. In September, two events dominated the news that seemed to turn the election. ISIS released videos of beheadings of western journalists and an Ebola outbreak in Africa started fears of an epidemic.

The rapid rise of ISIS lead to questions about Obama’s policies in the Middle East and the Ebola scare fueled irrational fears that the virus would reach America. Both stories dominated news cycles for weeks. Looking back, the ebola story might well have been exploited to create fear. The virus was confined to a few West African nations and was very difficult to transmit. The people being infected were mainly relatives of victims and health care workers without sufficient protection. It had to be spread through contact with bodily fluids. Low quality health systems were one of the the main reasons for the rapid spread, but that’s not what certain people in the US believed heading into the November election.

In October, I observed a focus group of “Walmart Moms.” Clearly, their biggest fear was Ebola based on false information. One woman claimed that it was scary because it was so easily transmitted. Other members of the focus group nodded in agreement.

Republicans jumped on this fear calling for banning all flights from Africa, as if the continent were a single country. With the data they had, Cambridge Analytica could have easily played on the fears of low-information voters to manipulate them with disinformation and drive them to the polls. Regardless, just a few weeks after the election, Ebola stopped scaring people.

Hagan almost won the election by keeping the race focused on North Carolina issues and Thom Tillis’ record as House Speaker. In October, the dynamic shifted, driven largely by fear of ISIS and Ebola nationalizing a race that had been localized for most of the cycle. Cambridge Analystics could certainly have used their stolen data to reach people they could scare. Would it be enough to change the outcome of the election? We’ll probably never know that for sure, but it could cast doubt on the legitimacy of Tillis’ election.

The whole episode follows a trend in NC GOP political strategy. Instead of trying to convince the people of their policies, they’re spending an inordinate amount of energy on manipulating the electorate. They’ve used unconstitutional legislative tools to discourage voters and gerrymander districts. Now, they’re using stolen data to play on the fears of low-information voters. In other words, they’re undermining democracy and rigging the system.



    Hagan broke her promise to first responders to vote for collective bargaining rights. That contributed to her loss.

  2. A.D. Reed

    Am I correct in recalling that there was also a $5 million (or $4.5 million?) donation to the Tillis campaign from Art Pope sources about two weeks before the election? It was made out of the blue and too late to be reported in the October report, and was used to buy vast amounts of last-minute Hagan-bashing advertising.

    Please correct me if I’m confusing this with a different last-minute dirty trick by the GOP (there are so many it can be hard to keep them straight).

  3. Bob R

    This in my mind is a stretch of limited if any facts combined with dubious assumptions to support a prethought out conclusion. Perhaps if politicians placed more emphasis on educating our children and voters about real issues like universal national service, healthcare, jobs, retirement and the consideration of others we wouldn’t have these unneccessary hypotheses on why a particular candidate won or lost.

  4. John M

    “Where Kogan went wrong was when he provided the data to Cambridge Analytica and continued to use it for the purposes of political persuasion after the company’s terms of service had changed. According to the Times, Kogan insisted both in the fine print of the survey and to Facebook that his interest in the data was purely academic. But Kogan used this data to aid Cambridge Analytica’s work on behalf of the Ted Cruz campaign in 2016 and then, later, the Trump campaign. Given that the 2016 election was decided by fewer than 60,000 votes in a handful of Midwestern states, it is possible—though unlikely and hardly definitive—that its work swung the election to Donald Trump.

    At this point, Cambridge Analytica’s woes are extensive. Because it employed a number of foreign nationals—mainly Canadians and Brits—it may have violated federal election law. Because of its relationship to the Mercers, who provided millions in funding, it may have violated federal campaign finance law as well. In December, moreover, special counsel Robert Mueller requested that the company turn over internal documents related to the 2016 election. Representatives from the company also may have lied to investigators from the British and American governments about its activities during the 2016 election.


  5. Christopher Lizak

    Hey, wait a minute. I thought “the Russians did it”?

    Can’t they keep their narratives straight?

  6. willard cottrell

    Cambridge Analytica, low info voters gerrymandering – and the rest of the BULLSHIT that we use to excuse the fact we are no longer DEMOCRATS but republican lite. Hagen ran as far away from OBAMACARE as her little legs could take her. She lost b/c we have been “Clintoned” – middle of the road nonsense. Time to be PROUD of our FDR roots and not RUN AWAY from them.

    Time to talk democratic roots, instead of having arguments w/ trolls

  7. Kathy Cox

    “Cambridge Analytica was one of many vendors that provided limited services during my campaign,” Tillis said in a statement released by his spokesman. “However, they were not our digital vendor, and they have ceased to be a vendor for my campaign for more than three years. My expectation is that all services provided to my campaign are lawful – regardless of who provides them, including third parties. If we were misled by a vendor, that would be deeply disturbing.”

    More rubbish from Thom our illegitimate senator.

    • ebrun

      Ok, I get it. Tillis defeated Hagan because “low-information voters” (read conservatives) were terrified of the spread of Ebola and thus voted for Tillis. LOL What an absurd fantasy.

      BTW, I worked in the ’14 campaign for GOP candidates in NC. Not once did I hear any of our Republicans supporters mention the fear of an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. as a reason they would vote for Tillis or against Hagan. You folks are mired in deep denial, but that’s ok. Reality can be tough to handle sometimes.

  8. ebrun

    OMG, it’s those “low-information voters” again. LOL Darn fools keep voting for Republicans. Isn’t there something liberals can do to discourage them from voting? Maybe float a few more fake news stories like this piece of unadulterated rubbish.

    • Kathy Cox

      Nice try ebrun……. You Russian bot.

  9. progressive Wing

    Nice use of the false-equivalency, divert-the-discourse, whataboutistic tactic there, Joshua. And all couched in the tabloid-tested use of a rhetorical question. Gotta love your stretch of an effort!
    So, try this on for size:
    Question – Is there any reason to believe that the Obama campaign hired Cambridge Analytica or any other such firm to steal and weaponized FB information originating from unwitting FB users, and then play on the fears of those users?
    Answer -No.

    • Joshua Horn

      Yes. I don’t really have a problem with it, but that is exactly what they were doing. They used took the data from their volunteer’s FB accounts and mined their friend lists for other FB users’ data. Those were the “unwitting FB users.”

      “Obama’s data scientists were able to persuade about a million Facebook users to connect their profile to the Obama campaign website. They were then able to access the profiles of these people, which also showed who their friends were. From this they were able to construct real life social networks, which enabled them to target many, many more potential Obama voters. “If you log in with Facebook, now the campaign has connected you to all your relationships,’ boasted a digital campaign organiser.”


      • John M

        One can question whether data mining is appropriate, regardless of who it is done by, but the fact remains that Obama’s campaign used legitimate means while CA data was obtained illegally. Can’t detect the difference? Not surprising since evidently you’re not intelligent enough to deal with this not so subtle distinction.

      • Brian Finch

        This is a such a reach, Joshua. Not even close to the illegal and immoral methods used by CA in the aforementioned article. The blaming Obama and Hillary counter argument narrative is tiresome and unjustifiable. Accept what is factual, repent the mistake of supporting a corrupt GOP and work towards the common good for our state and republic…. Enough partisanship already.

        Illegal, immoral, and unethical behavior is unwarranted and wrong for any side, red or blue. This must stop.

  10. Joshua Horn

    Is there any reason to think Cambridge Analytica was actually doing anything substantially different than Obama’s presidential campaigns, or any other modern “data centric” campaign?

    • Brian Finch

      I don’t know Joshua. Is there? You posed the question to imply (or incite), without any factual evidence to substantiate your inquiry. This type of “questioning” is the same type of underhanded method used by too many who are lazy, misinformed, or unethical in their approach to engage others in discourse, See Fox News hosts.

      My suggestion to you is to stop taking these shortcuts and apply yourself to the skill of critical thinking. Not all “data-centric” campaigns engage in questionable tactics… Just like…. not everyone on welfare is lazy, or not all UNC Tarheels cheat, or not all NC Republicans are corrupt. You get the idea.

    • John M

      Yes there is. In Obama’s case, his campaign’s use was completely transparent and within appropriate
      guidelines of Facebook regulations. In the case of CA, they used information obtained in fraudulent means. Not to mention foreign nationals’ involvement in Trump’s campaign proceedings. You might try doing a little bit of basic research before posting any notion of false equivalencies.


        This is a breaking story, and it may be premature to decide what and whom was legal or illegal in their practices. Be that as it may, Kay Hagan wasn’t cheated and would not have lost to a creature like Tillis had she bowed to the sentiment of her state and refused to vote to enact Obamacare. Under no circumstance should voters tolerate an elected official who defies the will of the people and so we got stuck with the likes of Tillis.

        • Troy

          So…the majority is always right?

          • tY Thompson

            You know, that’s an interesting question with two answers. The first is that the majority isn’t always right. The second is that there is always a minority that only thinks the majority is right when they agree with the minority.

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