Congressional candidate Art Robinson paid Cambridge Analytica $20,000 in 2014 to collect data on how to hone his campaign message to potential voters, according to federal election records. He was one of the first American politicians to use the service.
Cambridge Analytica has provided data analysis services to a number of Republican candidates since, and has recently been in the news for acquiring and analyzing data on Facebook customers, then using that information to benefit President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Robinson, a Cave Junction chemist, is making his fifth challenge this year for the seat held by longtime U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield. In 2014, during his third run for the seat, the Robinson campaign made three payments to Cambridge Analytica for “campaign consulting,” according to Federal Election Commission records. The DeFazio campaign on Wednesday sent out a campaign message revealing the payments.
In an interview Wednesday, Robinson acknowledged that his campaign paid the company to collect data about voters.
“I don’t feel any qualms about what we did, because it was perfectly above-board,” he said.
At the time, Oregon was one of four states Cambridge Analytica, a British company, chose to experiment in when it first began analyzing data for individual politicians’ campaigns in America, Robinson said. He asserted that Democrats were well ahead of Republicans in data analysis of voters in 2014. Because the Republicans hadn’t yet caught up, Robinson decided to use Cambridge Analytica’s service.
The company’s analysis gave him information on who he should mail to and what message he should send. Although he didn’t change his political views, the company’s analysis helped him pick three to five topics out of a possible 20. Robinson said he doesn’t recall which topics were selected based on Cambridge’s advice.
He said he believes at the time Cambridge was not collecting data from social media to benefit his campaign. Instead, he said, it used focus groups and questionnaires to make recommendations about which issues Robinson should focus on when his campaign reached out to voters.
At the time, the company’s work wasn’t controversial, Robinson said. Now, people are learning more about it.
“The public, of course, is seeing something they may not have realized has always been there, these big data systems,” Robinson said.
Cambridge was formed out of an older British company called the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group in 2013, with the purpose of mining Facebook data. Cambridge was created by Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon and donor Robert Mercer, who has made political contributions to Robinson. In 2014, researchers used a personality survey to collect private information from Facebook users for Cambridge. Facebook has said the sale of its user data to Cambridge violated its policy.