Person

Tara McGowan

Age:

33

Nationality:

American

Occupation:

Founder of ACRONYM

Husband:

Michael Halle

Tara McGowan is a Democratic political operative best known as the head of the “ACRONYM” network of Democratic Party-aligned outside advocacy groups, which is known to include the social-welfare advocacy group ACRONYM, the political action committee (PAC) PACRONYM, the left-of-center media outlet Courier Newsroom, and the digital ad consultancy Lockwood Strategy Lab.

Prior to heading the ACRONYM network, McGowan worked at the Democratic Party-aligned Super PAC Priorities USA, Tom Steyer’s environmentalist political network NextGen Climate Action, and worked as a staffer on President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. McGowan has also worked as a press secretary to U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and as an associate producer for CBS News and the PBS show “Frontline.” [1][2] [3]

Priorities USA

Prior to creating the ACRONYM network, McGowan was digital director for Priorities USA. [4] In 2016, McGowan was part of a direct pitch to encourage people to vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In video submissions for use on social media platforms, former Obama administration staffers pleaded with voters to support Hillary Clinton, because they were “crazy” for Obama, and voters should “be crazy for her.” [5]

In her role as digital director, McGowan helped Priorities USA target Latino and African American voters with low propensities to vote but strong probabilities that they would support Hillary Clinton. The ads were aimed at mobile users in English and Spanish. [6]

ACRONYM Network

Lockwood Strategy

McGowan is the founder of Lockwood Strategy Lab (commonly referred to as “Lockwood Strategy”). [7]

ACRONYM operates as an IRS-designated 501(c)(4) social welfare group, but the organization houses several for-profit organizations under the IRS designation. For instance, ACRONYM houses Lockwood Strategy, which is for-profit campaign consultancy. The ACRONYM portfolio also contains Shadow, a software development company, an investment arm called FWIW Media that invests in left-leaning organizations, and an apparel company called Rogue Swag. [8][9] [10]

ACRONYM

Tara McGowan has received criticism for her organization’s makeup and structure. Since the profits from her for-profit companies may get routed back to ACRONYM, critics have argued that it was duplicitous of her to place for-profit companies under a nonprofit umbrella and for her to potentially own stock in them. [11]

In 2017, ACRONYM joined with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) to run digital ads in Virginia for Democratic candidates. The NRDC and ACRONYM purchased more than $250,000 worth of ad slots for Democratic candidates. [12] In that year’s elections, McGowan and ACRONYM also worked with Planned Parenthood to target Virginia voters on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam (D-VA). [13]

In 2018, Tara McGowan’s ACRONYM created the project “Knock the Vote.” The project features 30-second video spots aimed at younger voters. In the videos, black persons are calling the police on white persons who are “behaving in a socially irresponsible manner” by not voting. [14] The group also launched one of the largest digital advertising campaigns to register new voters. The voter registration campaign by ACRONYM targeted 36 states, with a heavy focus on Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. [15]

In a tweet posted on September 15, 2020, McGowan referred to ACRONYM as a “dark money nonprofit.” [16]

Shadow and the 2020 Iowa Presidential Caucuses

ACRONYM launched Shadow Inc. in 2019, a technology and software development company that, in its own words, aims to “build political power for the progressive movement.” [17] [18] [19]

In February 2020, an app that Shadow created for the Iowa Democratic Party to process caucus results malfunctioned the night of the presidential caucuses. After the issues occurred, ACRONYM was contacted by journalists. It jumped to the defense by deflecting responsibility, protesting that Shadow was an entirely separate group, and stating that it did not know what happened. [20] ACRONYM, however, had announced that it was launching Shadow Inc. in January 2019. [21][22]

However, Shadow’s chief executive officer Gerard Niemira had published a blog post on ACRONYM’s website in January of 2019 stating that the then-newly created Shadow would “exist under the ACRONYM umbrella.” [23] The Daily Beast also pointed out that ACRONYM’s website claimed responsibility for having “launched” Shadow until the caucus debacle occurred, after which the word “launched” was replaced with “invested in.” Shadow’s official incorporation papers listed its mailing address as ACRONYM’s. [24]

In July 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg‘s campaign had paid Shadow $21,250 for “software rights and subscriptions” according to FEC records. [25] A little after midnight the day after the Iowa caucus, before any results came in, Buttigieg claimed victory on Twitter. He fell under criticism for this, leading to speculation on Twitter, particularly among Bernie Sanders supporters, about the role his campaign payments might have played in the failures on Shadow’s part. [26] Suspicions intensified when it was discovered that McGowan’s husband, Michael Halle, had been hired by Buttigieg’s campaign as a senior strategist in July 2019. [27] (Halle had also worked as a major organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in Iowa. [28][29]) In addition, Halle’s brother Ben Halle was working for Buttigieg as his Iowa communications director. [30] A spokesperson for Buttigieg’s campaign later said the payments were for text message outreach to voters. [31]

Several days after the Iowa caucuses, Troy Price announced that he was stepping down from his role as chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “The fact is that Democrats deserved better than what happened on caucus night. As chair of this party, I am deeply sorry for what happened and bear the responsibility for any failures on behalf of the Iowa Democratic Party,” he said in his letter announcing his resignation. [32]

Courier Newsroom

McGowan, concerned about a possible digital advertising advantage for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, started the Courier Newsroom to counter the perceived Republican advantage. “We live in a distributed, digital media environment. There’s no regulations. Misinformation not only runs rampant but is now being condoned by the most powerful social media platform in the world.” [33] In a November 2019 Bloomberg interview, McGowan  claimed that social media platforms like Facebook had become conservative echo chambers due to President Donald Trump’s unorthodox method of political messaging and conservative media outlets replacing local news. By creating a network of local news outlets that cover news stories from a liberal perspective, McGowan aimed to bypass the alleged conservative stranglehold over digital media. McGowan has received criticism for attempting to politicize local news from the top down, but rejects it: “what I say to them is, balance does not exist anymore.” [34]

On September 3, 2020, watchdog group Americans for Public Trust filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) which alleged that Courier Newsroom cannot be considered a tax-exempt organization and must register itself as a political group and report its donors as is required of political groups. Americans for Public Trust built its case on an internal memo authored by McGowan in which she spoke of Courier Newsroom as having an explicitly political purpose: countering Republicans and elevating Democratic candidates. Rithesh Menon, the chief operating officer of Courier, claimed that the group is not partisan and described the FEC complaint as politically motivated. [35]

Funders

PACRONYM, affiliated with ACRONYM, filed its first disclosure report with the Federal Elections Commission in January 2019. In the disclosure, the names of certain major Democratic donors were revealed, including Donald Sussman, Michael Moritz, Kenneth Duda, Mimi Haas, Steven Spielberg, and Jim Schwartz. [36]

ACRONYM has been described as a “dark-money” group funded by wealthy donors seeking to bolster Democratic candidates in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2018, PACRONYM received the bulk of its funding from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. In 2018, Lockwood Strategy, housed under ACRONYM, secured almost $1 million in ads for Democratic state candidates in Pennsylvania. Lockwood Strategy had also booked ads for the organizations Win Justice, Planned Parenthood Votes, and Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) re-election campaign. [37]

Fight Back PAC

Fight Back PAC was formed to oppose the re-election of Republican U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Martha McSally, Joni Ernst, John Cornyn, and, David Perdue. McGowan is an advisor to the PAC. [38]

Views on Technology Policy

In the past, Facebook has threatened to limit the ability of political campaigns to micro-target voters on its platform but stated that it would not impose any restrictions before the 2020 elections. Since McGowan’s platforms rely on the ability to target voters, she said limiting campaign ads “would have unnecessarily restricted valuable tools that campaigns of all sizes rely on.” [39]

In April 2019, McGowan accused Fox News of distorting social media through its outreach efforts. “The fact they can drive the exact same storyline each and every day across channels — from television to social media — is so much more effective at influencing hearts and minds than political advertising.” [40]

References

  1. “About.” Lockwood. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.lockwoodstrategy.com/about-us. ^
  2. Thrush, Glenn. “Shakeup Continues at pro-Clinton Super PAC.” POLITICO, June 23, 2015. https://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/priorities-usa-super-pac-hillary-clinton-staff-shakeup-changes-119337. ^
  3. “Tara McGowan.” LinkedIn 2020, Accessed September 10, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/taramcgowan. ^
  4. “Tara McGowan.” AAPI Progressive Action. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.aapiprogressiveaction.com/tara-mcgowen. ^
  5. Eilperin, Juliet. “’Do It for Obama’: 2008 Campaign Alumni Make an Impassioned Plea for Clinton.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/11/03/do-it-for-obama-2008-campaign-alums-make-an-impassioned-plea-for-clinton/. ^
  6. Kaye, Kate. “Priorities USA Bets on Mobile-Only GOTV Ads for Latinos and Black Voters.” Ad Age, November 4, 2016. https://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/priorities-usa-bets-mobile-gotv-ads/306624. ^
  7. “Tara McGowan.” LinkedIn 2020, Accessed September 10, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/taramcgowan. ^
  8. Montellaro, Zach. “Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Cast off PACs.” POLITICO, January 17, 2019. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-score/2019/01/17/democratic-presidential-hopefuls-cast-off-pacs-482469. ^
  9. “FWIW Newsletter.” ACRONYM, January 31, 2020. https://www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw/. ^
  10. Corasaniti, Nick. “The Twitter Ads That Weren’t.” The New York Times. The New York Times, November 19, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/19/us/politics/twitter-banned-political-ads.html. ^
  11. Fouriezos, Nick. “Meet the Democrats’ Most Dangerous Digital Strategist.” OZY, December 11, 2019. https://www.ozy.com/news-and-politics/meet-the-democrats-most-dangerous-digital-strategist/95569/. ^
  12. “NDRC and ACRONYM Launch Digital Campaign Targeting Virginia Voters.” National Democratic Redistricting Committee, October 27, 2017. https://democraticredistricting.com/ndrc-and-ACRONYM-launch-digital-campaign-targeting-virginia-voters/. ^
  13. Bradner, Eric. “Dems See Digital Breakthrough in Virginia Wins.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 10, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/10/politics/democratic-groups-virginia-digital-breakthrough/index.html. ^
  14. Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Getting Out The Youth Vote With A Dash Of Snark.” NPR. NPR, October 24, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/10/24/660059052/getting-out-the-youth-vote-with-a-dash-of-snark. ^
  15. Bradner, Eric. “Democratic Group Launches Trump-Bashing $3 Million Online Voter Registration Campaign.” CNN. Cable News Network, September 24, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/24/politics/ACRONYM-democratic-voter-registration-digital-push/index.html. ^
  16. Twitter. McGowan, Tara. September 15, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2020. https://twitter.com/taraemcg/status/1305919837705732097. ^
  17. Acronym. “Some News This Morning We’ve Acquired SMS Tool Groundbase & Are Launching Shadow, a Company Focused on Building the Technology Infrastructure Needed to Enable Democrats to Run Better, More Efficient Campaigns. Learn More in @Politico’s Morning Score: Https://T.co/WwibAvwgCw Pic.twitter.com/gLGj63gAFE.” Twitter. Twitter, January 17, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20200204200037/https:/twitter.com/anotheracronym/status/1085934845942026241. ^
  18. “Shadow.” Shadow. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://shadowinc.io/. ^
  19. “Who’s Behind Dems’ New $75 Million Ad Campaign?” Sludge. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://readsludge.com/2019/11/06/whos-behind-dems-new-75-million-ad-campaign/. ^
  20. Corasaniti, Nick, Sheera Frenkel, and Nicole Perlroth. “App Used to Tabulate Votes Is Said to Have Been Inadequately Tested.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 4, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/03/us/politics/iowa-caucus-app.html ^
  21. Acronym. “Some News This Morning We’ve Acquired SMS Tool Groundbase & Are Launching Shadow, a Company Focused on Building the Technology Infrastructure Needed to Enable Democrats to Run Better, More Efficient Campaigns. Learn More in @Politico’s Morning Score: Https://T.co/WwibAvwgCw Pic.twitter.com/gLGj63gAFE.” Twitter. Twitter, January 17, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20200204200037/https:/twitter.com/anotheracronym/status/1085934845942026241. ^
  22. Montellaro, Zach. “Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Cast off PACs.” POLITICO, January 17, 2019. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-score/2019/01/17/democratic-presidential-hopefuls-cast-off-pacs-482469. ^
  23. “Shadow.” Shadow. Accessed February 4, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20190921140218/https://www.anotheracronym.org/introducing-shadow/. ^
  24. Lachlan Markay, Sam Stein. “Investors Rush to Scrub Ties to Firm Behind Iowa Clusterf*Ck.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, February 4, 2020. https://www.thedailybeast.com/investors-rush-to-downplay-ties-to-shadow-the-firm-behind-iowa-caucus-clusterfuck. ^
  25. “Browse Disbursements.” FEC.gov. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?data_type=processed&committee_id=C00697441&recipient_name=Shadow&two_year_transaction_period=2020. ^
  26. “Iowans See Their Shadow.” Spectator USA, February 4, 2020. https://spectator.us/iowans-see-shadow-acronym/. ^
  27. Treene, Alayna. “Scoop: Buttigieg Hires McAuliffe Adviser Michael Halle to Senior Staff.” Axios, July 29, 2019. https://www.axios.com/pete-buttigieg-michael-halle-senior-staff-36f664e9-0099-4eb1-a01b-1f07cc488709.html. ^
  28. Madrigal, Alexis C. “The Company That Botched the Iowa Caucus Was Formed Only Months Ago.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, February 5, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/iowa-caucus-app-tech/606094/. ^
  29. Martin, Jonathan. “Clinton Team Nabs McAuliffe Adviser to Focus on Iowa.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 31, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/03/31/clinton-team-nabs-mcauliffe-adviser-to-focus-on-iowa/. ^
  30. Madrigal, Alexis C. “The Company That Botched the Iowa Caucus Was Formed Only Months Ago.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, February 5, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/iowa-caucus-app-tech/606094/. ^
  31. Lachlan Markay, Sam Stein. “Investors Rush to Scrub Ties to Firm Behind Iowa Clusterf*Ck.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, February 4, 2020. https://www.thedailybeast.com/investors-rush-to-downplay-ties-to-shadow-the-firm-behind-iowa-caucus-clusterfuck. ^
  32. Levy, Adam. “Chairman of Iowa Democratic Party Resigns after Caucus Catastrophe.” CNN, Cable News Network, 12 Feb. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/02/12/politics/troy-price-iowa-resigns/index.html. ^
  33. Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-11-25/ACRONYM-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  34. Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-11-25/ACRONYM-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  35. Lee, Michelle. “Network of News Sites Must Register as a Political Committee Due to Democratic Links, Complaint Alleges,” September 3, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courier-newsroom-complaint-fec/2020/09/02/afa2305c-ed2e-11ea-ab4e-581edb849379_story.html. ^
  36. Samuels, Brett. “Dem Group Targets Trump in $3M Voter Registration Campaign: Report.” TheHill, September 24, 2018. https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/408058-dem-group-targets-trump-in-3m-voter-registration-campaign-ahead-of-midterms. ^
  37. “Who’s Behind Dems’ New $75 Million Ad Campaign?” Sludge. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://readsludge.com/2019/11/06/whos-behind-dems-new-75-million-ad-campaign/. ^
  38. “Tara McGowan, Digital Advisor.” Fight Back PAC. Accessed January 28, 2020. http://fightbackpac.com/leadership-team/tara-mcgowan/. ^
  39. Ingram, David. “Democrats Vow to Beat Trump on Facebook after It Declines to Rein in Political Ads.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, January 10, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/democrats-vow-beat-trump-facebook-after-it-declines-rein-political-n1113546. ^
  40. Uberti, David. “How Fox News Dominates Facebook in the Trump Era.” Vice, April 29, 2019. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wjvdem/how-fox-news-dominates-facebook-in-the-trump-era. ^
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