The Iowa caucus: What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave

The Iowa Democratic caucus was a mess. Right in the middle of it was Shadow Inc, the developer of the app that malfunctioned big time in reporting on the caucus results. But it doesn’t end there.


Now bear with me.

According to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact, Shadow began as Groundbase, a tech developer co-founded by Gerard Niemira and Krista Davis with an initial investment from another progressive nonprofit, Higher Ground Labs. Niemiura and Davis had previously worked for the tech team on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

According to the New York Times, Groundbase was nearly bankrupt when ACRONYM, a Democratic organization working to advance progressive causes, acquired the company on January 17, 2019. ”Some news this morning,” ACRONYM tweeted. “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.”

Niemira is now Shadow’s Chief Executive. In July 2019, Shadow said, “Since we initially announced our acquisition by ACRONYM earlier this year, Shadow has been hard at work to publicly launch and bring you new tools to help progressive campaigns and causes win up and down the ballot.”

Tara McGowan, ACRONYM’s founder and CEO, worked on the CBS program 60 Minutes, as a digital producer with Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and as Digital Director for Priorities USA, a super PAC that supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Vox reported today (Feb. 5, 2020) that after the Iowa debacle ACRONYM scrubbed its website of mentions of launching Shadow and says it’s just one of multiple investors along for the ride. “Acronym’s decision to distance itself from Shadow — or perhaps lying about it altogether — is making the situation worse, not better,” Vox said.

ACRONYM is a dark money group, so donations received by its 501(c)(4) nonprofit don’t have to be reported. That means who’s donating and how much is a mystery. But ACRONYM’s super PAC, PACRONYM, does have to report contributions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit campaign finance research group, reports on Open Secrets 2018 and 2020 election cycle contributions of $500,000 from movie director Steven Spielberg and $500,000 from his wife, Kate Kapshaw, $2,000,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, $300,000 from ACRONYM, $50,000 from Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, and $100,000 from Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios and  co-founder and former CEO of Dreamworks.

But wait. There’s more.

Another operation under ACRONYM’s umbrella is a for-profit digital media outfit, Courier Newsroom.

On Jul 24 2019, Vice reported that the Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, planned to invest $100 million in four so-called “news” outlets put out by Courier Newsroom that would be staffed by Democratic operatives and would publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.

The local news outlets would complement national media that are aligned with the Democratic Party such as The American Independent , which describes itself as “the No. 1 digital platform for progressive news” (formerly ShareBlue) and Media Matters For America, which says it is “a web-based, not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3) progressive research and information center.”

Courier Newsroom currently has three properties:  The Dogwood in Virginia, Copper Courier in Arizona and UpNorth News in Wisconsin.

Typical of the stories on the sites is a Feb. 4, 2020 item in UpNorth News: “Trump Gave Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rosa Parks Day – The conservative radio host has a decades-long history of making racist, xenophobic, and sexist comments. In contrast, Parks, who received the award in 1996, was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Courier Newsroom’s homepage initially gives no clue that it’s a highly partisan publication. “At COURIER, we empower individuals and communities through local reporting that helps people understand and affect the issues impacting their lives,” the homepage says. It’s only way down after the listing of staff that this appears: “COURIER is owned and operated by Courier Newsroom, a progressive media company owned by the non-profit ACRONYM.”

What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave.




















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