There are few candidates nationwide on the 2018 ballot who have received more help from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch than Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt.
Laxalt, Nevada’s attorney general, has benefited from more than $2.5 million in outside advertising spending from the Koch-funded political nonprofit groups Freedom Partners Action Fund and Americans for Prosperity since he entered the race last year, and the well-funded groups highlighted the Nevada’s governor race as one of only seven they plan to focus on in the 2018 midterm elections.
The two brothers are the principal owners of the privately held oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, with annual revenues estimated to be around $100 billion. The pair and a network of connected donors with similar libertarian, small government leanings have donated millions of dollars to think tanks, nonprofits, political action groups and candidates over the past decade.
But there’s another, less obvious connection between Laxalt and the billionaire conservative donors — voter outreach software.
According to campaign finance reports, Laxalt is one of only two candidates in Nevada to report making payments to a company called i360, a for-profit data services company with close links to the Koch donor network. According to a 2014 Politico report, the company combines publicly available voter rolls with consumer information purchased from credit bureaus and social network profiles, giving campaigns access to information ranging from estimated income and voting frequency to what kind of car they drive. The company maintains profiles of about 190 million voters.
The company’s services — which in some ways provides competing services to the Republican National Committee’s own data collection and analysis efforts — have been used by numerous high-profile Republican candidates since 2008, including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John McCain. But the company’s largest client has long been the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, which has reported paying tens of millions of dollars to the company over the past six years — including just over $2 million in Nevada last year.
The company itself was founded by a former adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, and eventually merged with a Koch-funded data nonprofit and is in part funded by Freedom Partners.
But the data company has recently landed in the middle of an intense fight between RNC officials and the Koch network of deep-pocketed conservative donors, given their recent criticism of President Donald Trump’s policies on trade and tariffs.
In a memorandum published by Politico last week, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel sent a letter to party contributors asking them to not use the Kochs’ “competing” data platform, as data entered into their system wasn’t shared with other Republican candidates and after Charles Koch said he’d be willing to support Democrats that share his values.
“From the beginning, the RNC had concerns about any outside entity building a data operation to compete with ours because we knew they could potentially weaponize that data against Republicans if their business interests conflicted with electing Republicans,” she said in the letter. “Sadly, our concerns were recently proven true.”
McDaniel recommended that Republican candidates use Data Trust, a company used by the RNC and the Trump campaign in 2016. A spokesman for Laxalt didn’t return a call seeking comment if the campaign was still using i360’s services.
Since the start of 2017, Laxalt’s campaign has reported making 41 payments to i360 totalling about $19,000. The only other political candidate to report expenditures to the data company was former state Senate candidate Elizabeth Helgelien, who expended about $2,000 to the company and lost a three-way Republican primary back in June.
Other state organizations that have made payments to i360 include the Nevada Republican Party, the Nevada Jobs Coalition — a PAC supporting Republican candidates for state Senate — and NRA Nevadans for Freedoms, a group formed to oppose the 2016 ballot measure requiring most private party gun sales or transfers first undergo a background check. The group’s campaign manager, Robert Uithoven, is also a campaign consultant for Laxalt.
RNC Nevada communications director Keelie Broom said in an email that the party is not using i360.
Updated at 11:50 a.m. to correct the title of Keelie Broom.
From the Editor