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Trump’s campaign strategists linked to a company hoovering up data on religious people

President Trump standing with Pope Francis.
REUTERS/EVAN VUCCI/POOL
Support from religious groups is important to Trump.
  • Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

New YorkPublished

US president Donald Trump’s political data strategy is closely linked to a company buying up data on religious people in the United States. Two leaders of Trump’s strategy, campaign manager Brad Parscale and data programming strategist Matt Oczkowski, are also associated with marketing agency Cloud Commerce, which bought rights to access personal information on 80 million religious people.

The company statement, released in December, said the database on “faith-based individuals” includes detailed data on “demographic, psychographic, and sociographic, information, as well as charitable affiliation, purchasing habits, event attendance and literature, music and film preferences” for each person. Parscale serves on the board of directors for Cloud Commerce. “Clearly he had to approve this purchase,” said Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “He knows it’s there.” Neither CloudCommerce nor Parscale responded to requests to comment on whether the Trump campaign would make use of the religious data set.

Meanwhile Oczkowski, who was previously head of product at Cambridge Analytica, founded data company called Data Propria, which is owned by CloudCommerce and staffed by several other Cambridge Analytica employees. Trump hired Oczkowski to run his data program in January, according to Politico. Oczkowski and Cloud Commerce did not respond to requests for comment about Oczkowski’s current roles.

Oczkowski claimed that he and Parscale were “doing the president’s work for 2020” in a conversation overheard by two AP reporters in June 2018. He later denied doing such work, claiming that his remarks were speculative. 

Christian groups are a key support base for Trump. In 2018, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon boasted of his ability to target ads at Catholics in the midterms. “If your phone’s ever been in a Catholic church, it’s amazing, they got this data. Literally, they can tell who’s been in a Catholic church and how frequently,” he said in a deleted scene from the documentary The Brink. Bannon explained that data would be used to tell Catholics they had a duty to support Trump.

Chester said the close ties between Trump’s campaign and Cloud Commerce raised questions about whether the data would be used for political purposes in the 2020 election. “In such a tight election, given the critical importance of the faith community, the purchase of this religious database by Cloud Commerce raises a lot of concerns about the kinds of marketing that will be delivered to the tens of millions of faith-based Americans,” he said.

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