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-aligned outside advocacy groups, which is known to include the social-welfare advocacy group ACRONYM, the Super PAC PACRONYM, and the left-of-center media outlet Courier Newsroom.

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

Priorities USA

Prior to creating the ACRONYM network, McGowan was Digital Director for Priorities USA. [3] In 2016, Tara 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.” [4]

In her role as digital director, Priorities USA targeted Latino and African American voters with a low propensity to vote, but strong affinity with Hillary Clinton. The ads were aimed at mobile users in English and Spanish. [5]

ACRONYM Network

Lockwood Strategy

McGowan is the founder of Lockwood Strategy Lab (commonly referred to as Lockwood Strategy).

ACRONYM operates as an IRC section 501(c)(4) nonprofit, but the organization houses several for-profit organizations under the IRC designation. For instance, ACRONYM houses Lockwood Strategy, a campaign consulting firm under its umbrella. The ACRONYM portfolio also contains Shadow, a peer-to-peer texting product, an investment arm called FWIW Media that invests in left-leaning organizations, and an apparel company called Rogue Swag. [6][7] [8]

ACRONYM

Tara McGowan has received criticism for her organization’s makeup and structure. While the profits from her for-profit companies may only be routed back to ACRONYM, critics have argued it is duplicitous of her to create for-profit companies under a non-profit and for her to potentially own stock in them. [9]

In 2017, ACRONYM joined with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to digital ads in Virginia for Democratic candidates. The NRDC and ACRONYM joined to place more than $250,000 in ad buys for Democratic candidates. [10]In that year’s elections McGowan and ACRONYM also worked with Planned Parenthood to target Virginia voters about the candidacy of Ralph Northam for governor of Virginia. [11]

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. [12]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. [13]

SHADOW AND THE 2020 IOWA PRESIDENTIAL CAUCUSES

ACRONYM launched Shadow Inc. in 2019, a technology and software development company that aims to “build political power for the progressive movement.” [14] [15] [16]

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 a separate group, and stating that it did not know what happened. [17] ACRONYM, however, had announced that it was launching Shadow Inc. in January 2019. [18][19]

In addition, Shadow’s current chief executive officer Gerard Niemira published a blog post on ACRONYM’s website in January of 2019 stating that newly-created Shadow would “exist under the ACRONYM umbrella.” [20] The Daily Beast pointed out that ACRONYM’s website stated that it had “launched” Shadow until the caucus debacle occurred, after which “launched” was replaced with “invested in.” Shadow’s official incorporation papers listed its mailing address as ACRONYM’s. [21]

In July 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg‘s campaign had paid Shadow $21,250 for “software rights and subscriptions” according to FEC records. [22] A little after midnight after the day of 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 played in the failures on Shadow’s part. [23] 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. [24] (Halle had also worked as a major organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in Iowa. [25][26]) In addition, Halle’s brother Ben Halle was working for Buttigieg as his Iowa communications director. [27] A spokesperson for Buttigieg’s campaign later said the payments were for text message outreach to voters. [28]

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. [29]

Courier Newsroom

McGowan, concerned about a possible digital advertising advantage for President Donald Trump’s re-election, started ACRONYM to counter the perceived Republican advantage. “We live in a distributed, digital media environment. There’s no regulation. Misinformation not only runs rampant but is not being condoned by the most powerful social media platform in the world.” According to McGowan, because traditional political ads are being scrutinized by platforms like Google and Facebook, she can bypass that scrutiny through her news service, Courier Newsroom. She still maintains the nonprofit status of ACRONYM and Courier Newsroom but can operate a for-profit consulting company under the same umbrella. McGowan has received criticism for her approach and rejects it because “what I say to them is, balance does not exist anymore.” [30]

Funders

PACRONYM, affiliated with ACRONYM, filed its first disclosure report with the Federal Elections Commission in January of 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. [31]

ACRONYM has been described as a “dark-money” group funded by billionaires seeking to bolster Democratic candidates in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2018, PACRONYM received the bulk of its funding through 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, with a somewhat murky association between ACRONYM and PACRONYM, also has booked ads for the organizations Win Justice, Planned Parenthood Votes, and Senator Jeff Merkley’s reelection campaign from Oregon. [32]

Fight Back PAC

Fight Back PAC is organized against 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. [33]

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 will most likely not do anything before the 2020 elections. McGowan’s platforms rely on the ability to target voters and said limiting campaign ads “would have unnecessarily restricted valuable tools that campaigns of all sizes rely on.” [34]

In April of 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…is so much more effective at influencing hearts and minds than political advertising.” [35]

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.” AAPI Progressive Action. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.aapiprogressiveaction.com/tara-mcgowen. ^
  4. 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/. ^
  5. 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. ^
  6. 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. ^
  7. “FWIW Newsletter.” ACRONYM, January 31, 2020. https://www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw/. ^
  8. 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. ^
  9. 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/. ^
  10. “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/. ^
  11. 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. ^
  12. 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. ^
  13. 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. ^
  14. 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. ^
  15. “Shadow.” Shadow. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://shadowinc.io/. ^
  16. “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/. ^
  17. 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 ^
  18. 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. ^
  19. 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. ^
  20. “Shadow.” Shadow. Accessed February 4, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20190921140218/https://www.anotheracronym.org/introducing-shadow/. ^
  21. 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. ^
  22. “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. ^
  23. “Iowans See Their Shadow.” Spectator USA, February 4, 2020. https://spectator.us/iowans-see-shadow-acronym/. ^
  24. 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. ^
  25. 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/. ^
  26. 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/. ^
  27. 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/. ^
  28. 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. ^
  29. 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. ^
  30. 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. ^
  31. 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. ^
  32. “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/. ^
  33. “Tara McGowan, Digital Advisor.” Fight Back PAC. Accessed January 28, 2020. http://fightbackpac.com/leadership-team/tara-mcgowan/. ^
  34. 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. ^
  35. 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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