By KENNETH P. VOGEL and MAGGIE HABERMAN | 4/22/13 5:04 AM EDT
The GOP didn’t have an answer for Big Democratic Data in 2012, costing them in close races from Congress to the White House.
Now, they’ve got lots of answers — possibly too many — and a feisty rivalry is brewing between tea party upstarts, nonpartisan data geeks, operatives linked to the Koch brothers and insiders like Karl Rove.
Instead of fighting Democrats, the right’s would-be data wizards are going after each other with claims of cronyism and incompetence, as well as cutthroat bidding wars and threats of legal action.
This isn’t just about who can hire the most young IT programmers, create the slickest app to optimize door-knocking routes or stave off a repeat of the Election Day collapse of Mitt Romney’s ORCA system.
Rather, in a very real way, it’s about who controls the party through its most precious asset — its voter data — and the multimillion-dollar contracts that could follow.
Rove has begun soliciting donors for a $15 million-plus data project. There are competing systems being offered by a pair of twin brothers. And a programmer who helped start the dominant Democratic voter data system is pitching a copycat setup for Republicans.
The Republican National Committee is encouraging the intramural competition and, at the same time, pushing a data management system of its own.
(Also on POLITICO: DSCC outraises NRSC by $2 million)
“I would hope that the pressure and the desire to win is so great that people will really try to get the best product that is truly going to solve the problem and not just make their decisions based on who has the best connections,” said conservative data entrepreneur Ned Ryun.
Rove earlier this month spoke with major donors in New York about a voter data project that he has estimated could cost between $15 million and $20 million. He has been working with San Francisco-based private-equity investor Dick Boyce, who is fronting a political data concept called Liberty Works, sources tell POLITICO.
The public relationship between Rove and Boyce has been complicated, according to several sources familiar with the project. Rove has openly embraced Boyce’s work, touting it at an invitation-only conference that drew some of the GOP’s biggest names to a swanky Georgia resort in March. But Boyce has established distance from Rove, indicating to prospective donors that he’s not simply a front for the latest project from the Rove-conceived Crossroads groups, which sponsored one of Rove’s New York meetings this month.
Likewise, Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio, called Liberty Works a “stand-alone” effort.
Meanwhile, POLITICO has learned that a voter database outfit called Themis, established by the political network associated with David and Charles Koch, has been working with an established private political data company called i360. The partnership seems to give Koch World, which until recently had mostly focused on conservative issue advocacy, new reach into Republican Party politics.
On its website, i360 boasts of maintaining a constantly updated database of over 187 million active voters and over 211 million consumers that “provides hundreds of data points on every American adult that is currently or potentially politically active.”
It’s unclear when the Themis relationship began, but since 2010. i360 has worked for Republican candidates and committees ranging from Reps. Diane Black and Tom Cotton to unsuccessful 2012 candidates Allen West, Josh Mandel and Tim Pawlenty, the Maine Republican Party, and a pro-Rick Perry super PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Themis — which cost at least $18 million to build in 2010 and 2011, according to recent tax filings — was used in 2012 by Koch-backed nonprofit groups such as Americans for Prosperity to contact millions of voters through phone calls and door-knocks in the run-up to Election Day.
Some critics grumbled about Themis’s performance, and POLITICO has learned that operatives have held post-election meetings on how to utilize it more effectively.
A representative from Koch Industries declined to comment on the record, but a person familiar with the situation said “Koch remains committed to Themis and their technology.”
Multiple sources said that Boyce’s effort has collided with Themis, adding to the rivalry between two of the deepest-pocketed factions in conservative politics — Crossroads and the Koch political operation.
Lighter-weight groups also have made some in-roads into the wide-open conservative data landscape.
Last year, Ned Ryun and his twin brother Drew, in a partnership between their American Majority Action nonprofit and a company called Political Gravity, rolled out a voter data interface called Gravity that helped customers ranging from victorious Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz to the tea party group FreedomWorks.
But the brothers have since split. Drew left American Majority, and they launched competing firms after Election Day.
The Ryuns are “type double As” who have been “competing all our lives,” said Drew Ryun, whose new company, Surge Data Tech, is among a handful of voter data firms pitching state Republican parties.
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