A minor change to the way the Republican National Committee handles its large voter database could mean a big strategic boost for the party. After years of prodding from party insiders, the RNC is finally storing its database with a third party.
Effectively, this means that constantly refreshed and enhanced information gleaned by outside groups like Karl Rove-linked Super PAC American Crossroads can be fed back into the main database. The result should be more sophisticated use of the data for fundraising and voter outreach through direct mail and, presumably, digital platforms such as email.
According to an RNC spokesperson, the database is now housed by The Data Trust. Before, when the RNC stored its database in-house, it provided state parties or advocacy groups data through a list exchange, but would not get any fresh updates in return.
"We weren't getting the full potential back from them of what they learned or were getting out of the list," said the spokesperson. "The trust allows us to do that."
The former in-house approach also meant the RNC's database sat idle between election cycles. Meanwhile, left-leaning groups have been able to plug fresh data into Catalist, the outside entity used by the Democratic National Committee to manage its voter database.
With right-leaning outside groups such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks reaping data and dollars from activists leading into 2012, a third party data house may give the RNC a strategic advantage, allowing the party to collect and share data from like-minded groups. The RNC's strategy group oversees the relationship with Data Trust, said the spokesperson.
"The RNC has been carrying the data burden for years while the DNC shifted to Catalist," she noted in a followup email. "When Data Trust approached us with a need to help the GOP community have better data, we made the decision to enter in as it benefits everyone. As far as who is participating, I'm told that has to be up to the other groups and/or DataTrust to make public but remember that state parties are entitled to anything the RNC is."
"I've been pushing for this for four years," said Saul Anuzis, RNC technology committee chair, who spoke with ClickZ News in June about the issue.
At the heart of the issue is money. Since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 - often referred to as McCain-Feingold - limited the ability of political parties to collect soft money, outside organizations have had an expanding role in political campaigning.
The question remains whether it's too late in the 2012 cycle for the Data Trust initiative to put the Republicans on even footing with the Democrats. In June, Anuzis said the RNC would have to have an outside database program in place in the next three to four months in order to make an impact in the 2012 race.
To be clear, the RNC is not selling the data to other groups, said the RNC spokesperson.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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