Politics & Government

Thom Tillis says data company's work for him was limited

Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, left, and NC Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin
Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, left, and NC Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said the political data company central to a Facebook scandal provided "limited services" to his 2014 campaign.

Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, used Cambridge Analytica in his successful challenge to incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.

Tillis’ campaign committee paid the firm $10,000 on Oct. 21, 2014, and $20,000 on Nov. 6, 2014. It made four payments of $25,000 throughout 2015 to Cambridge Analytica, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

A Tillis spokesman called the $100,000 in post-election payments a "win bonus."

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The London-based company is under siege after reports in The New York Times and the Guardian revealed that it received personal information from more than 50 million Facebook users, through a researcher, to create profiles of prospective voters and "microtarget" political messages. Cambridge Analytica worked for Donald Trump's campaign in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica worked earlier for Tillis and the NC Republican Party, which combined to pay the company $345,000 in 2014 and 2015.

The $215,000 the state Republican Party paid in 2014 and 2015 were described as "microtargeting consulting fees" in FEC filings. Dallas Woodhouse, NC Republican Party executive director, said the company was one of several hired to work on direct mail.

In a statement, Tillis said the company hasn't worked for his campaign in more than three years.

"Cambridge Analytica was one of many vendors that provided limited services during my campaign," Tillis wrote. "However, they were not our digital vendor and they have ceased to be a vendor for my campaign for more than three years. My expectation is that all services provided to my campaign are lawful — regardless of who provides them, including third parties. If we were misled by a vendor, that would be deeply disturbing."

Cambridge Analytica boasts of its work for Tillis and the NC Republican Party on its website, saying that it used its "unique data-rich voter file" to predict partisanship, turnout, and build "psychographic profiles of all voters in North Carolina." The company said it identified national security as the major issue among the majority of targeted voters.

In debates and ads, Tillis hammered Hagan on her absences from Senate Armed Services Committee meetings.

The company said its "telecanvassing" program contacted 123,138 people, which resulted in increased turnout equal to 12.57 percent of those called, the equivalent of more than 15,478 voters. Tillis won by 48,511 votes.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the NC Democratic Party questions Cambridge Analytica’s work for US Sen. Thom Tillis and the NC Republican Party. Goodwin spoke out at a press conference in Raleigh, Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

The North Carolina Democrats said the public needs to know more about the relationship Tillis and the state Republican Party had with Cambridge Analytica, which state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin called a "shady firm."

"There are more questions than answers at this point," Goodwin said at a news conference Tuesday before Tillis issued a statement.

In a WPTF radio interview Tuesday morning, Woodhouse said Cambridge Analytica's actions weren't illegal and that the issue is overblown.

"People talk in these dramatic terms, and how bad something is — it's not against the law," he said. He compared the data company's actions to the state party finding people's birthdates on Facebook and sending them birthday cards.

"Facebook is in the business of selling information," Woodhouse said. "If people don't want Facebook to know their personal information, they shouldn't engage with them."

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner