For-profit

Center for Civic Information

Website:

www.centerforcivic.info/

Location:

VA

Formation:

2020

Executive Director:

Aaron Strauss

The Center for Civic Information (CCI) is a left-of-center electoral advocacy organization based in Virginia that emerged for the first time during the 2020-2021 U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. [1] CCI was incorporated by Democratic National Committee (DNC) lawyer Graham Wilson and is directed by longtime Democratic operative Aaron Strauss. [2] [3]

CCI became embroiled in controversy when it sent anonymous letters to a number of Georgia voters in the weeks before the runoff election threatening to publicize information about how certain neighborhoods had voted. [4] Some right-of-center critics have assumed that CCI only sent letters to Republican voters in an attempt to get them to vote for Democratic candidates in the runoff election, given Strauss’s deep connections to the Democratic Party and career built around “microtargeting” to convince individuals to vote for left-of-center officials. [5]

Founding and Leadership

The Center for Civic Information (CCI) was formed on December 2, 2020, according to Virginia state business records. [6] Outside of these official documents, very little is known about the organization as of March 2021.

CCI appears to have been founded exclusively to rally support for U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) during their 2020 campaigns in the U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The CCI website contains no background information on the organization and features two links to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website regarding how to vote in Georgia. [7]

CCI was incorporated by Graham Wilson. [8] Wilson is a Democratic attorney who has worked on behalf of the DNC. Perkins Coie, Wilson’s law firm, has received at least $41 million since 2019 for its work on behalf of organizations connected to the Democratic Party, excluding work done for left-of-center nonprofit organizations. [9] [10]

Aaron Strauss, a longtime Democratic operative, is listed as the director of CCI. Strauss is the former executive director of the Analyst Institute, an organization that assists left-of-center campaigns in evaluating their impact. [11] Prior to leading the Analyst Institute, Strauss ran a political consulting organization that worked with major Democratic clients, including Catalist and the AFL-CIO. Strauss also worked as the targeting and data director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) during the 2012 election [12]

Georgia Runoff Election Controversy

Despite only being created in December 2020, the Center for Civic Information has already been at the center of controversy. In the weeks leading up to the Georgia runoff election, CCI sent anonymous letters to a number of Georgia voters promising to reveal their “neighborhood’s voting grade.” [13]

The letters appeared to be based on the “neighbors letter,” a political science experiment from 2006. Researchers sent the neighbors letter to various individuals in a given neighborhood and listed, by name, whether their neighbors had voted in recent elections. The letter then promised to send out an updated list after the next election, which increased voter turnout by 8.1%. [14]

CCI sent a letter in nearly the exact same format, though rather than listing whether individuals had recently voted, it asked recipients “ARE YOU AND YOUR NEIGHBORS PARTY VOTERS?” The letter went on to list seven Georgia neighborhoods, identified by the names of individual residents within them, with the recipient’s name and neighborhood appearing at the top of each list. The letter then offered “current grades” for each neighborhood based on how many people in the area cast votes for members of both parties. [15]

The letter accused some Americans of voting “blindly” along party lines and claimed that its aim was to “publicize which nearby neighborhoods actually vote for candidates from both parties.” The article closed by threatening recipients, claiming that CCI would send “an updated chart” with new grades after the runoff elections so, “You and your neighbors will all know which neighborhoods vote the candidate, and which just vote the party. So don’t be a party voter.” [16]

Criticisms

Georgia voters who received the unsettling flyer began to contact news outlets, leading to widespread criticism of CCI tactics. Concerned citizens claimed that the flyer might “intimidate” voters to change their votes. Moreover, a representative from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office confirmed that no organization could legally access data on which candidate voters supported, meaning that the flyers spread false information regarding what CCI could access after the election in an effort to pressure voters. [17]

Some right-of-center critics have assumed that the letters were only sent to Republican voters, given Strauss’s deep connections to the Democratic Party and career built around “microtargeting” to convince individuals to vote for left-of-center officials. [18] In November 2020, Strauss published an article claiming that the electoral system was “unfair” to Democrats and attributing all Republican success to gerrymandering. To address the alleged unfairness, Strauss called on Democrats to engage in “relational persuasion” in which Democratic voters pressure their friends, families, and neighbors to vote for Democratic candidates. [19]

Strauss even listed these so-called persuasion methods as a way to flip districts traditionally controlled by Republicans, though he called successful persuasion efforts led by Latino Americans in Texas on behalf of former President Donald Trump “pro-Trump propaganda” organized by a “member of a less politically-engaged community.” [20] Critics alleged that the CCI letter campaign was just one example of Strauss using such manipulative tactics in order to pressure likely Republican voters. [21]

Even other left-of-center organizations sought to distance themselves from CCI following its anonymous letter campaign. The similarly named Center for Civic Innovation, a nonprofit organization that was also involved in promoting voter turnout during the Georgia runoff elections, published a statement condemning CCI’s tactics. The Center for Civic Innovation wrote that it did not “know anything about this organization” and was “not affiliated with” CCI. The statement went on to denounce “any tactic that appears to shame people for how they’ve voted.” [22]

References

  1. “The Center for Civic Information.” The Center for Civic Information. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.centerforcivic.info/ ^
  2. “Center for Civic Information.” State Corporation Commission Clerk’s Information System. Virginia State Corporation Commission. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://cis.scc.virginia.gov/EntitySearch/BusinessInformation?businessId=11141906&source=FromEntityResult&isSeries=False. ^
  3. “Aaron Strauss.” Netroots Nation. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.netrootsnation.org/profile/astraussanalystinstitute-org/. ^
  4. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  5. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator . Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  6. “Center for Civic Information.” State Corporation Commission Clerk’s Information System. Virginia State Corporation Commission. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://cis.scc.virginia.gov/EntitySearch/BusinessInformation?businessId=11141906&source=FromEntityResult&isSeries=False. ^
  7. “The Center for Civic Information.” The Center for Civic Information. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.centerforcivic.info/. ^
  8. “Center for Civic Information.” State Corporation Commission Clerk’s Information System. Virginia State Corporation Commission. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://cis.scc.virginia.gov/EntitySearch/BusinessInformation?businessId=11141906&source=FromEntityResult&isSeries=False. ^
  9. “Graham M. Wilson.” Perkins Coie. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/professionals/graham-m-wilson.html. ^
  10. Mills, Ryan, and Tobias Hoonhout. “Democratic Legal Activist Marc Elias Has Spent a Career Preparing for the 2020 Election Fight.” National Review. National Review, November 3, 2020. https://www.nationalreview.com/news/democratic-legal-activist-marc-elias-has-spent-a-career-preparing-for-the-2020-election-fight/. ^
  11. “Aaron Strauss.” Netroots Nation. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.netrootsnation.org/profile/astraussanalystinstitute-org/. ^
  12. “Aaron Strauss.” Netroots Nation. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.netrootsnation.org/profile/astraussanalystinstitute-org/. ^
  13. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  14. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  15. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  16. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  17. Diekneite, Max. “WTOC Investigates: Concern over Election Flyers Ahead of Georgia Runoff.” WTOC. Gray Media Group, January 4, 2021. https://www.wtoc.com/2021/01/04/wtoc-investigates-concern-over-election-flyers-ahead-georgia-runoff/. ^
  18. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  19. Strauss, Aaron. “Electoral Politics on an Unfair Playing Field.” Slow Boring. Slow Boring, November 24, 2020. https://www.slowboring.com/p/electoral-politics-on-an-unfair-playing. ^
  20. Strauss, Aaron. “Electoral Politics on an Unfair Playing Field.” Slow Boring. Slow Boring, November 24, 2020. https://www.slowboring.com/p/electoral-politics-on-an-unfair-playing. ^
  21. Murray, C. “The Voter Manipulation Scheme That May Have Clinched the Georgia Runoffs for Democrats.” The American Spectator. Spectator, February 23, 2021. https://spectator.org/georgia-runoffs-voter-intimidation/?utm_source=LibertyNation. ^
  22. Malhotra, Rohit. “Statement on Letters from Center for Civic Information (Different Organization).” Center for Civic Innovation, December 29, 2020. https://www.civicatlanta.org/cci-news/2020/12/29/statement-on-letters-from-center-for-civic-information-different-organization. ^
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