POLITICS
02/04/2020 00:47 EST | Updated 02/04/2020 11:33 EST

This Is The Buzzy Democratic Firm That Botched The Iowa Caucuses

Shadow, a Democratic tech firm, created the app that was supposed to deliver quicker caucus results.

A tech company affiliated with and funded by Acronym, a Democratic digital nonprofit group that has rapidly expanded in recent years, was responsible for building the Iowa caucus app that contributed to delays in reporting Monday night’s results in the first vote in the party’s presidential race. Multiple Democratic sources, including one of the presidential campaigns, confirmed the app’s creator. 

State campaign finance records indicate the Iowa Democratic Party paid Shadow, a tech company that joined with Acronym last year, more than $60,000 for “website development” over two installments in November and December of last year. A Democratic source with knowledge of the process said those payments were for the app that caucus site leaders were supposed to use to upload the results at their locales. 

Charlie Neibergall/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Des Moines, Iowa, residents enter a caucus site at Hoover High School on Monday.

Gerard Niemira, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is the head of Shadow. He previously served as chief technology officer and chief operating officer of Acronym, according to his LinkedIn page. In 2019, David Plouffe, one of the chief architects of President Barack Obama’s wins, joined the board of advisers for Acronym. 

Acronym spokesman Kyle Tharp put out a statement distancing the group from Shadow, saying that Acronym is merely an investor in the for-profit company. 

In January 2019, Tara McGowan, the head of Acronym, announced that her firm had “acquired” Niemira’s Groundbase company, adding that he and his team were “launching Shadow, a new tech company to build smarter infrastructure for campaigns.”

The Iowa Democratic Party had refused to reveal details about the app, including the company behind it and what security measures were being taken to safeguard the results, arguing that it made the technology more vulnerable to hackers. 

The app was supposed to make reporting the results easier and quicker. But on Monday, numerous Democrats in Iowa reported major problems in attempting to download the application and upload results, with many saying they resorted to calling the results into state party headquarters in Des Moines. 

As of 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the party had not released any results from the caucuses, which were seen as a four-way battle between former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a statement Tuesday morning that the results were delayed due to an issue with the app. What’s more, he said, pre-planned backup measures took longer than expected.

“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data,” Price said. “We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”

The party used paper documentation from the caucuses to verify that the data collected by the app is “valid and accurate,” Price said. He added that the party hoped to release the caucus results “as soon as possible today.”

The Nevada Democratic Party, scheduled to hold the next Democratic caucus on Feb. 22, has also paid Shadow for website development. 

Acronym, which McGowan, a digital strategist, launched in the wake of the 2016 election, has become a growing part of the Democratic digital ecosystem. The group has raised tens of millions of dollars with a buzzy message about how Democrats have fallen behind in digital advertising. In 2018, the group funded an onslaught of ads on platforms like Facebook and Google.

The group launched a super PAC, Pacronym, this year to mount a major digital effort attacking President Donald Trump, and won the backing of Plouffe. Pacronym reported raising $7.7 million in 2019.

This article has been updated to include comments from Acronym and the Iowa Democratic Party chair. 

Hayley Miller contributed reporting.

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