It’s unclear how much influence Cambridge Analytica, a firm that consulted for the Trump campaign, had on the 2016 presidential election, but, in a private sales pitch, the firm took all the credit. It also hinted at campaign machinations that are illegal under US law.
Filmed by an undercover reporter for the UK TV station Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica’s now suspended CEO Alexander Nix says that it “did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting,” that the company ran “all the digital campaign,” television campaign, and that its data informed the campaign’s entire strategy. Channel 4 filmed Nix saying this as he was trying to sell his firm’s services to what he believed was a prospective client in Sri Lanka, represented by the reporter who was posing as the client’s fixer.
Over the weekend, two major investigations revealed that Cambridge Analytica collected the data of 50 million Facebook users without their permission to use for campaign purposes.
In the Channel 4 video, Alex Tayler, the firm’s chief data scientist, spoke about how Cambridge Analytica operated on two levels, putting positive messaging out through the Trump campaign, and negative through “affiliated groups” that were sponsored by Super PACs.
Such coordination would be illegal under US campaign law. Last year, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the Mercer-family funded super PAC Make America Number 1 engaged in “unlawful coordinated spending by using the common vendor Cambridge Analytica.” (The Republican mega-donor Mercers also fund the consulting firm.)
The firm said it put up necessary firewalls to separate their activities.
As part of his braggadocio sales pitch, Nix said that he was not concerned at all about the intervention of US lawmakers. He dismissed the House Intelligence Committee which interviewed him in 2017.
“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said.
In a statement announcing Nix’s suspension, Cambridge Analytica said: “In the view of the board Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 News do not represent the values or operations of the firm.” On Monday, Channel 4 released a different video in which Nix and other executives are filmed bragging about using bribery and blackmail in elections around the world. In response to the earlier video, Nix claimed he was only feeling out the client: “In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.”
Mark Turnbull, the firm’s managing director, also claims in the latest video that he created the “Crooked Hillary” slogan, which was all over the internet during the campaign, frequently repeated by Trump himself. It was used as a tactic to target potential Clinton voters as well as Trump supporters.