Hillary Clinton ruffled a lot of feathers Wednesday when she said the data provided by the Democratic National Committee during her run for the presidency was "mediocre to poor." She also alluded to a conspiracy theory that the Republican National Committee's own outside data minions helped guide targeting of fake news content disseminated by Russians, contributing to her loss to Donald Trump.
But that's not where things end. Some Democratic data wonks who dispute Clinton's claims about the quality of the DNC data operation believe there is a Svengali of sorts whispering in Clinton's ear, feeding her misinformation about the DNC data machine.
"Clearly someone with an agenda is feeding her bad information for their own personal reasons because it's personally beneficial to knock down a really good DNC data operation," said a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic data analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Melissa Byrne, former national Get-Out-the-Vote director for the Bernie Sanders campaign, praised the DNC's data team on Twitter, suggesting that a "tech bro" may have influenced Clinton's statements.
I would want @dnc data team on my team any day. They do incredible work and keep our state parties kicking ass.— Melissa Byrne (@mcbyrne) May 31, 2017
I live in facts. She is just wrong on this. Likely a tech bro pitching on a problem that doesn't exist so he can make $$ on a solution.— Melissa Byrne (@mcbyrne) June 1, 2017
Another D.C.-based person familiar with the DNC's data operation who asked not to be named alleged that certain Silicon Valley execs want to turn Clinton's defeat into a business opportunity, by convincing the Democratic Party that it needs their help.
Clinton spoke during the Code conference Wednesday in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., describing her situation after winning the Democratic presidential nomination: "I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party. I mean it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, raw."
She mentioned help from "some people in Silicon Valley" during her campaign, noting a distinction between her campaign's analytics team and the DNC's data operation:
"You know, I was very proud of my data and analytics team. They were largely veterans of the Obama campaigns, '08, '12, and then we brought in new people and brought in a lot of new expertise to build the next generation. And we had a lot of help from some people in Silicon Valley as well."
In addition to blaming bad DNC data, Clinton alluded to additional factors that could have influenced her election loss, seeming to raise the unsubstantiated possibility of collusion between Republican data operatives and Russians disseminating fake news. She referred to "the marriage of the domestic fake news operations, the domestic RNC Republican allied data, you know, combined with the very effective capabilities that the Russians brought."
"So we're going to, I hope, be able to connect up a lot of the dots," Clinton added.
Notably, the only outside Republican data force Clinton mentioned by name was Cambridge Analytica, a British psychographic data firm backed by conservative donor Robert Mercer. The firm worked with Ted Cruz's failed presidential primary campaign before being signed on with the Trump camp late in the general election season.
"Then you've got Cambridge Analytica, and you know, you can believe the hype on how great they were or the hype on how they weren't, but the fact is they added something," Clinton said. "The Mercers did not invest all that money just for their own amusement."
Cambridge Analytica declined to comment for this story.
The DNC appears to be taking the high road in regards to Clinon's comments. In a statement sent to Ad Age by DNC Spokesman Michael Tyler, the party did not dispute Clinton's claims that its data operation was lacking.
However, Tyler did mention current help from Silicon Valley. DNC Chairman Tom Perez "has said before that the DNC was not firing on all cylinders and that's why he did a top to bottom review that included technology." Tyler added, "Tom is already deeply engaged with the outpouring of support from Democrats across the country, from Silicon Valley to suburban Georgia, who want to help improve the data and tech, get it in the hands of more organizers everywhere, and build the grassroots funding stream required to support those efforts."
Meanwhile, Democratic data execs only have good things to say about the DNC's data and infrastructure. For instance, David Radloff, co-founder of Democratic data and analytics firm Clarity Campaigns, said that in the 2016 North Carolina gubernatorial election in which Democrat Roy Cooper won, "The DNC data underpinned all the analytics we did in an incredibly competitive race." Clarity worked with the Cooper campaign.
The DNC's 2016 data infrastructure was built on the data and technology lauded after Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, said Tom Bonier, CEO of Democratic data firm TargetSmart. "Then to come back now and say that Secretary Clinton inherited nothing and that the data was wrong and inaccurate is just false. This is the Obama 2012 data operation -- plus."
The DNC is seeking a new chief technology officer after longtime CTO Andrew Brown, still helping with the transition, announced his planned departure in December.