New Republic - February 6, 2020

"... But because of the deeply broken state of our money-choked and mostly unregulated election machinery, those funds go instead to people like McGowan, who wield power within the party because they are able to raise money, not because they have shown any real ability to spend it in ways that help Democrats win elections. This machine is designed to extract cash from people with too much of it and distribute it to insiders in the permanent campaign. If an election gets won here or there, it’s mostly incidental."

The press accounts of the App That Failed during the Iowa caucuses this week were probably most Americans’ introduction to Acronym, the Democratic nonprofit responsible for developing the app, but journalists have had a chance to scrutinize the organization for almost three years. Acronym launched in 2017, to overwhelmingly credulous coverage. Axios wrote that it creates “‘breakthrough digital [campaigns]’ online and on mobile to reach progressive voters during crucial campaigns.” That was the general tenor of most stories written about Acronym, basically, up through Monday night.

Reading those stories now brought me to a depressing realization: The people who said they were going to beat Donald Trump in 2020 by emulating his supposedly highly sophisticated digital targeting operation have instead emulated Trump by turning their campaigns into a lucrative grift for a small group of well-connected party insiders. And, because this is the Democrats we are talking about, they did so by burning enormous sums of money that could have done untold good, politically and strategically, had they been used for just about anything else.

The very public failure of the app led, at least, to some useful reporting on the opaque dealings of the organization that sponsored its creation. Acronym is a 501(c)(4), a “social welfare” nonprofit that can shield the names of its donors. That is one of the conventional things about it. Less conventional, perhaps, is that Acronym has spent the last few years acquiring and starting for-profit companies, such as Shadow, the company behind the IowaReporterAPP from which Acronym has been ineptly distancing itself since the caucus debacle.

The entire organization seems to have been designed to make it impossible to know where the money that it accepts from donors actually ends up. As a “Democratic operative” told Politico, “There’s a nonprofit and then there are for-profits below it, like a nesting doll. It’s moving money around in a way that’s unclear to people.”

Acronym was able to drum up eye-popping donations from very wealthy people, such as billionaire Seth Klarman and venture capitalist Michael Moritz, because it adopted the vernacular of startup culture, promising to disrupt—and innovate in—the formerly staid world of political advertising. As an Outline story revealed, though, it doesn’t seem to do much innovating; it basically just gives a roomful of millennials no other direction or strategy than to create anti-Trump content. “They call it a ‘startup environment’ as an explanation for why no one knows what’s happening,” one staffer said. Acronym apparently told donors that it would create content, which would gin up a lot of impressions on social media, and that this, far more than any traditional advertising strategy, was a better investment—but to date, Acronym, according to the Daily Beast, has not managed to spend very much of the money it promised to devote to taking down Trump. ...
Read full report at New Republic