The Super PAC Big Data Election: Ready for Hillary Was Just the Beginning

Groups on the Right and Left Will Spend Big on Data-Driven Efforts for 2016

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If 2012 was the year of the data-fueled presidential campaign, 2016 will be the year of the data-driven Super PAC. Ready for Hillary, Hillary Clinton's shadow campaign PAC, is a prime example. In 2014 alone, the group spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on data and data-related services, and that doesn't include the millions that went towards direct mail and online ad buys informed by that information. Signs point to the right reinforcing its own data and analytics armaments, too.

Ms. Clinton announced her expected presidential campaign Sunday with a tweet. The campaign stands to benefit from the groundwork laid by Ready for Hillary, the group that's been supporting her would-be run since the start of 2013. In addition to the millions of dollars raised by the organization and the substantial list of supporters it's amassed, the group should give the Hillary for America campaign a head-start in the data department.

Ready for Hillary spent more than $275,000 on data and data-management services last year, according to Federal Election Commission filings evaluated by Ad Age. Those included around $76,000 spent on data modeling from Democratic voter data outfit Catalist, the firm founded by Harold Ickes, former assistant to President Bill Clinton. Another $180,000 was spent on database-management services from NGP VAN, a voter contact database and platform firm that counts post-Obama campaign group Organizing for Action and the Democratic National Committee as clients.

ReadyForHillary.com has been integrated with the NGP VAN platform and database which also facilitates the group's targeted email and social media efforts.

The organization also spent $20,000 to access the Iowa Democratic Party's voter data; Ready for Hillary has been an ongoing presence in the first-caucus state where Mrs. Clinton came in third place in Iowa's Democratic caucuses in 2008.

The Clinton campaign will build its own technology and data team and partners, though Ready for Hillary's focus on data services highlights the push by advocacy groups and Super PACs to follow in the footsteps of the modern data and analytics-centric campaign operation.

Groups on the right are making similar moves. Indeed, some are asking donors specifically to fund data resources.

"There are plenty of people writing big checks saying, 'I want you to use this for data,' " said Vinny Minchillo, principal of Republican political consultancy Glass House Strategy, and media consultant for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which backs former Texas Governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry.

"We're using data to go where our swing voters are and where our opponent is not running," he said.

FEC data shows Ready for Hillary worked with data-services firms Merkle, Winward Strategies and others to target and deliver direct mail -- most likely for fundraising efforts. The group also spent close to $2 million with Rising Tide Interactive on online advertising services.

However, the data focus is about much more than digital ad targeting. In 2016, both campaigns and the PACs supporting them will use voter scoring, segmentation and other means of targeting niche subsets of voters to refine traditional media efforts such as direct mail and television.

"The pitch is if you write us a check for $50,000 we're going to spend your money much more effectively than we were able to two years ago, and certainly more effectively than four years ago," said Mr. Minchillo.

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