HARTFORD, CT — Some Connecticut Realtors aren’t happy that a political action committee both launched and funded by the Connecticut Association of Realtors is backing Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski.
The committee, Realtors for Connecticut PAC, has spent $635,561 so far on the election. Most of the money has supported Stefanowski, but some of the funds have been used to back the re-election campaign of state Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor.
Not only has the PAC done all of its spending so far on two Republicans, but it also hired two companies — CloudCommerce Inc. and Data Propria — with connections to Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica is the voter-profiling company that has been accused of using personal data harvested from more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission to sway the 2016 election to Republican President Donald Trump.
Hearst Connecticut media was first to report Thursday on the spending by the PAC and its connections to Cambridge Analytica.
Realtors for Connecticut have paid $575,000 to CloudCommerce to build a website and handle digital advertising for Stefanowski. The PAC also paid $55,000 on Oct. 11 for a poll conducted by Data Propria, which is a subsidiary of CloudCommerce. The two companies share an address in San Antonio, Texas.
How Are They Connected?
In 2017, California-based CloudCommerce Inc. spent $9 million to acquire the web development company Giles-Parscale, co-owned by Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 digital campaign manager and current 2020 campaign manager.
The Associated Press reported in June that at least four former Cambridge Analytica employees were affiliated with the new firm.
Most of the money the PAC is spending with CloudCommerce is earmarked for Stefanowski’s campaign, and $10,000 was used for a digital advertising campaign in support of Davis.
The Connecticut Association of Realtors, which represents 17,000 realtors in Connecticut, is supporting Davis, who is also a real estate agent. The group has also endorsed Democratic candidates for office, but it has only spent money in support of Stefanowski and Davis.
Duff Says Group Is Hurting Its Credibility
Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat who is also a real estate agent, said the amount of money being spent by the organization is “heavy-handed and seems so wrong on a number of levels.”
He said the decision to use firms with past connections to Cambridge Analytica “sends all kinds of bad signals to the public and hurts the credibility of the organization.”
The company has remained in the news this year.
In March, Channel 4, a British news outlet, reported that it was able to obtain a dataset that included the psychological profiles of 136,000 Colorado residents reportedly “derived” from the original Facebook data held by Cambridge Analytica. “It’s not clear who exactly was in possession of the data — Channel 4 cites only an unnamed ‘Cambridge Analytica source’.”
Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy in May.
CloudCommerce said Friday that they are not using any of Cambridge Analytica’s data.
“We do not own any first-party data,” Jerry Hug, director of operations for CloudCommerce, said Friday. “We license all of our data from various sources for both our political and commercial clients.”
In May, CloudCommerce’s announcement of the launch of Data Propria included background on the firm’s president, Matt Oczkowski. He was the “head of product” at Cambridge Analytica and ran the team of embedded technical specialists inside “Trump’s campaign that led to the scientific understanding of the eventual outcome of the election,” according to the press release.
The poll that Data Propria conducted for the Realtors of Connecticut PAC has not been made public, but sources said that the survey showed Stefanowski leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont.
“Connecticut’s real estate industry and its economic success are inextricably linked,” CTR President Michael Barbaro said in a statement Oct. 15. “Connecticut needs a leader who can deliver change and we believe Bob Stefanowski is that leader.”
Barbaro, who recently served as a member of the Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth Commission, did not make himself available for a conversation Friday.
It’s unknown if any of the association members’ dues were used to fund the PAC. The money was transferred to the PAC by the association.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, said she’s distressed to hear that members of an organization that was “paid millions to manipulate voters” are playing any role in Connecticut’s electoral process.
“Their model for getting private information and targeting and manipulating voters should be rejected by Connecticut,” Quickmire said. “I don’t think we’re a state that wants to see elections won by manipulation.”
She said she doubts that all the Realtors who gave money to the Realtors for Connecticut would want to see their money used for these purposes.
Nichola Samponaro, a realtor from Greenwich, said she was “furious” that the organization spent money on Stefanowski. She said she doesn’t believe his fiscal policies will “give us a Connecticut we can sell.”
She said hiring companies associated with former Cambridge Analytica staffers also sends the wrong message. She said she plans to make her displeasure known.
However, none of what has been described above is illegal under Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.
In addition to the Realtors for Connecticut spending money on behalf of Stefanowski, Stefanowski’s own campaign has spent at least $227,000 on Texas-based Harris Media LLC.
Harris Media LLC was hired by Bob for Governor in December 2017 to do similar digital marketing work. Harris Media LLC previously worked with Parscale on Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Meanwhile, Lamont’s campaign has spent more than $681,000 with SKDKnickerbocker to help manage its social media and digital ad buys. About $325,000 of that was spent in October.
But even before the Realtors for Connecticut got involved, Stefanowski’s campaign seemed to be more successful than all the other candidates when it comes to Facebook interactions.
Stefanowski presence on Facebook outweighs his opponents by about a four to one ratio, according to comparative data provided by CrowdTangle.
Stefanowski’s campaign started showing Facebook activity in September 2017, well ahead of the campaigns of Lamont and Oz Griebel. And despite significant spending by Lamont on digital through SKDKnickerbocker, the Democrat hasn’t caught up.
Crowdtangle’s rankings are updated in real time and on Facebook they track the number of posts and videos by a page, interactions on each post and video and video views. Crowdtangle also provides an “average” interactions per video and a rate of interactions per post.
However, it’s important to note that Crowdtangle doesn’t differentiate whether a given interaction with a post or video is positive or negative — it just quantifies the conversations and activity on each page, and ranks them based on the data.
For a month-to-month look at Facebook activity on each gubernatorial candidate’s page from Crowdtangle, click here.