You don’t need to tell Eddie Rispone that you own a cat or that you have diabetes or that you’re a stamp collector. There is a chance he already knows this about you, but even if he doesn’t, one of his campaign consultants probably does.
For most candidates, retail politics means attending small events with potential voters in order to get to know and connect with them personally, but for Rispone and a dozens of other Republican candidates across the country, it could just as easily refer to a campaign’s use of consumer data, demographic information, and insight gleamed from social media profiles in order to shape strategies on which issues to emphasize and which persuadable voters to target.
Campaigns have relied on sophisticated online technology to help them identify their most likely voters for more than a decade, but usually, that technology is built on the voter file from their political party and voluntary surveys. The Rispone campaign, however, appears to be at least partially relying on a controversial service provided by i360, a company affiliated with mega-billionaire Charles Koch.
The company boasts a database that contains information on 89% of Americans, and it sells access to Republican candidates through expensive monthly subscriptions.
“i360’s voter file identifies ‘more than 199 million active voters and 290 million U.S. consumers,’ and provides its users with up to 1,800 unique data points on each identified individual,” explains Calvin Sloan of the Center for Media and Democracy. ”As a result, i360 and the Kochs know your vitals, ethnicity, religion, occupation, hobbies, shopping habits, political leanings, financial assets, marital status, and much more. They know if you enjoy fishing — and if you do, whether you prefer salt or fresh water. They know if you have bladder control difficulty, get migraines, or have osteoporosis. They know which advertising mediums (radio, TV, internet, email) are the most effective. For you.”
Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump rolled back a series of consumer information privacy regulations, making it easier for companies like i360 to monetize your personal information, without your knowledge or consent, and sell that information to political candidates.
According to campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration, Eddie Rispone loaned his campaign $11.55 million, and by Election Day last Saturday, he had likely spent every last penny (The final Election Day report from the jungle primary has not yet been disclosed).
Over the course of five months, from April to August, Rispone spent $35,130.20 with i360, exponentially more than any other Louisiana candidate has ever paid the company.
What did Rispone do with that data?
Nearly the same thing as another one of i360’s clients, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee: He used it to spread racist and anti-immigration propaganda.
“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,” Lee Fang of The Intercept recently reported. ”She ended up beating out Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who had been leading in the polls for months.”
Sound familiar? Here is Rispone’s most recent digital ad on the subject:
Even if you live in Louisiana, there is a good chance you hadn’t seen Rispone’s ad until just now, and that’s because his campaign hired other consultants to ensure the commercial reaches its intended audience. (We’ll introduce other members of Rispone’s team in subsequent reports).
Rispone’s claims about immigration enforcement and policy are fake news, deliberately misleading voters into believing that the issue is under the purview of the governor.
New Orleans-based immigration attorney Kathleen Gasparian explains.
“In one of his campaign ads, Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone promises to end sanctuary cities in Louisiana, ‘end taxpayer benefits for illegal immigrants,’ and he says he ‘supports President Trump’s wall 110 percent.’ These claims represent Rispone signaling that he aligns himself with Trump because the state doesn’t have jurisdiction in them,” Gasparian writes (emphasis added). ”What happens in New Orleans immigration court is similarly determined in Washington, D.C. and not Baton Rouge because for the most part, immigration is a federal matter. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 codified immigration as a federal issue, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 reiterated it while stating among other things that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for welfare—a Rispone plank that is already law.”
Similarly, Rispone has campaigned on his support for Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico. He’s either hoping voters don’t realize that there is absolutely nothing the governor of Louisiana can do about a border wall or that they’ve never looked at a map.
Regardless, when a gubernatorial candidate decides to campaign on issues he couldn’t do anything about, it’s probably because he’d rather not defend the things he actually intends to do.