Voter Outreach and `Killer Political Machines`: The Liberal Party`s answer to CIMS.

Right off the nut I will state that the Robo-Call scandal is indicative of the power and reach that the Conservative Party has acquired from a full decade of populating and expanding their voter profiling and targeting database, CIMS. The fact that Conservatives have used this information to criminally suppress and misdirect voters does not change the fact that the data itself can be legitimately used to win election, and build a Party more or less from scratch. The legitimate, and quasi-legitimate uses to which such databases can be put are legion, it boils down to knowing who to reach out to one-on-one to people grouped by likely response to any given message. ( narrowcasting, or retail outreach). Basically, if you can parse the complete list of electors, and segregate everybody on a fixed income, over the age of 65, living in a geographic area where rents are skyrocketing, then you can tailor a political message to these people, and deliver it by phone, mail, email, robocall, or pony express should that be your desire. This is legitimate use of data, and the CPC has become extremelt adept at identifying donors, supporters, and volunteers by using these tools.

The Conservatives have CIMS, the Green Party has GRIMES, (and civiCRM), which is but a pale imitation, but directionally sound. The NDP has NDP Votes, with which I am totally unfamiliar, but I have an inkling that it is in decent shape and is growing apace. The Liberal Party however, has been sorely lacking until more recent developments with Liberalist. One very nifty thing, which I applaude is the openness of the Liberal Party in leaving it all in the open on their website like this.

The Liberals have always understood the importance of having direct contact information. I think their biggest problem has been that they see everything through the lens of how it will serve their parochial interests in the next leadership contest, rather than how they can win elections  with it. A case in point is when Kate Holloway bailed from the Green Party and ran provincially for the Liberals in Trinity Spadina, It appears that the Liberal Executive in Trinity Spadina were not pleased, so they refused to turn over their closely guarded voter contact records to the Holloway campaign. Classic dog-in-the-manger politics. The reams of data collected and maintained by all those Liberal riding associations, and provincial and territorial associations were jealously guarded for use in the next leadership battle. Old habits die hard, and I am sure that a huge slice of contact information will never make it into Liberalist, BUT this database looks pretty good from the outside, and I think that it`s universal adoption by the Liberal Party is the first step in a long journey back from the Political wilderness.

So what am I talking about when I say this is the key to our Nations political quandry? Well lets take a look at how to build a kick ass political dataset. First of all, the ground rules. For a Political databse, THERE ARE NO RULES! Canadians enjoy a degree of privacy and security of data about themselves, except for one glaring exclusion. When data is collected and used FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES, it is exempted from privacy laws. Huh? So what did that mean for the CPC buildings CIMS, and how does it impact how data about YOU is collected and disseminated? Let us look at a hypothetical example, let us say that an issue based, or charitable organisations interests are aligned with the Liberal, (or NDP, or GPC) party. If both entities are dipping from the same well, then the interest group can collect all kinds of donor information, and data about their members or contributors, and there will be no legal sanctions should they siphon all that information into the political database. The Political database can be sliced, diced, and shared with anybody so long as the purpose to which the data is being put is a `Political Purpose`. The Party that owns the database does not have to pay for all those telephone operators, robodiallers, public events, fundraisers etc that went into developing the data. That is done by the third party actually fundraising and recruiting on their own behalf. When the next opportunity presents itself, the political party can dip into those very well qualified lists, and start pitching their own policies, and asks based upon the known affiliations and proclivities of the target audience.

The ability to share data indiscriminately provided it is politically motivated allows for a very labour and $$ intensive process to work. Folks, anybody who has ever had a summer job telemarketing knows that it takes a lot of time, ( and hence money) to reach out to and contact thousands, and millions of individuals. It requires dozens of robots, and hundreds of people dialling phones all day every day to build a multi-million record database. No political Party has those kinds of resources, so pinching the data, ( Sorry, I meant legally sharing political data), is the way to get the job done. Now I do not know just how palatable to the public it would be to really explain to them how their political masters have granted themselves carte blanch about basically stealing information about them for political purposes. I do not think that any sensible party would highlight the way they do this, unless they were hoping to cripple the Conservative Party by applying privacy laws to political data the same as everybody elses. There would obvioulsy need to be a heirarchy of database users, with a much more discreet effort ran by the central Party. For want of a better term, I will call the top tiers of the hierarchy tiger teams, who pursue individual segments of the populace on a retail basis. That process is not very hard to envision.

A Tiger team could be. for example, headed up by a shadow cabinet member, with responsibility for a particular demographic, issue, or cause. Hypothetically, let us say for example that the Shadow Cabinet Veterans Affairs critic was tasked with winning over veterans to the Liberal cause. She, or He would focus on outreach to veterans associations, working out the policy message that will appeal to, and help Veterans to acheive their objectives. They would start helping Liberal members of those associations to gain access to their membership lists. They would run the Liberals outreach identifying prospective supporters, proposing Liberal Policy prescriptions one on one to that list, and building both the Liberal and the veterans associations memberships, and cementing the affiliation in place.  It takes time, but it can be done from anywhere. If the message is well crafted, and it serves the interests of both the association, and the Liberal Party, then come the next election, a whole bunch of committed volunteers will hit the streets and phones carrying the message to the faithful. Just look at the way the pro-life lobby rolls into action on behalf of the CPC. Damned right it works.

Just how many shadow cabinet members are there right now? Just how many years are there to build the ground organisation to win the next election? It is a question of leveraging the resources of organisations with common interests, and building a thorough picture of larger and larger groups of prospective supporters, and WHAT MOTIVATES THEM. Does all this sound vagualy familiar? Does the name Jason Kenney ring a bell? How do YOU think the Conservative Party won over so many socially conservative ethnic associations? The good news is that the Lioberals are in Opposition right now. that means that they can hold the Conservative Party responsible for every little thing the Harper Government does. The Conservatives branded the National Government the Harper Government when they were busily dishing out pork by the bushel basketful. Time to turn the tables and hold the Harper Government resoponsible for all the pain and peril that the CPC wants to dish out now. The opportunities to build bridges to community, ethnic, and civil organisations are boundless, and Canadians are doomed to have neo=conservative values imposed on them until SOMEBODY somewhere figures out that it takes hard work and solid systems to build the killer political machine that will unseat them. Just one word of un-solicited advice. Do not use the data collected this way to crimninally suppress the vote.

Mechanics of Robo-Calling: Not a fluke or rogue campaigner. Someone who had ACCESS did these things.

It’s been awhile since I posted here. Quite awhile in fact. I make no bones about my dis-enchantment with the Green Party of Canada, and life is just too short to spend hours flogging a dead horse here. BUT with the breaking of the Robo-Call scandal, I am just so outraged I cast around for a venue to express myself, and here is my trusty blog to fall back on. I very strongly suspect an organised conspiracy exists with the purpose of suppressing the vote of non-Conservative voters by fair means or foul. The evidence appears to be mounting that the foul has expanded from somewhat reprehensible tactics to the criminal misrepresentation as Elections Canada officials diverting voters to phony non-existent polling stations. I personally have no direct evidence (yet) that an actual conspiracy existed, but please allow me to explain how robo-calling works, and the tools required to target a high volume vote suppression campaign.

First of all, I do not believe there is anything wrong with robo-calling. If a commercial enterprise were to conduct robo-call campaigns, they would be severely restricted and curtailed by privacy laws that support the do not call lists available to all Canadians. The privacy laws specifically exempt calling ‘for political purposes'(which in and of itself is peculiar wording don’t you think?). So under the letter of the law, anybody professing to call you for political purposes is exempted from the legal obligation to respect your wishes not to be telephoned. It isn’t only the letter of the law, the fact is that politics is all about communications, so there is even a good rationale for allowing politicians to call you, despite your desires not to be telephoned by strangers just as you sit down to a nice dinner. In my view, this scandal has absolutely nothing to do with the medium, it is the specific message.

So on to robo-calling process. I have used demon diallers for political campaigns before, and the actual process is simple. What you do is contact a robo-dialling company, and set up an account, normally using your credit card. You then upload a list of telephone numbers to the dialling companies servers. Next step is to either upload a voice file, with a pre-recorded message, or you can dial into your account, and record your message over the phone. Normally you have to sign (or click a button to confirm) that you are not doing anything illegal. The robo-dialling firms are all aware that do-not-call lists are not applicable to political communications, so you do not have to promise that your phone list has been scrubbed of all those folks who do not want their dinner interrupted. Well, obviously anybody with a spreadsheet of phone numbers, and a credit card could have impersonated an EC official, but wait…What kind of people can get their hands on accurate lists of Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters in ridings all across the country? And how many of these people will have access to considerable funds dedicated to an illegal vote suppression scheme?

Well, these kinds of lists SHOULD exist in every political party that wants to be a contender. The Party which has the absolutely best, most comprehensive identified voters lists is of course the Conservative Party. They call it CIMS, and there is an enormous amount of data on every Canadian voter stored there. The Conservatives have been updating this database continuously. Whether there is an election happening or not, the CPC has friends and allies making calls all day every day, and every time they identify what Party a voter supports, that info goes into CIMS. This database has been built over quite a few elections, and when you add in all the voter contact and issues identification that goes on between elections, you would probably be amazed at how much the Conservative Party knows about what issues are of importance to you, what charities you contribute to, and what has happened to your voting intentions over time. Commercially available data includes what you spend on your credit cards, which is a goldmine of data about YOU and your habits. And remember, because the data is used for POLITICAL purposes, way more data than is commercially legal can be traded and swapped into and out of CIMS. I have a typical anecdote for you to illustrate how this kind of database gets built over time. I own a small business, and many commercially available databases will list me as a business owner in central Ontario. I receive phone calls regularly from a certain Edmonton Based telemarketing firm recently in the news. Two or three weeks ago I received a call, purportedly raising money to ‘help keep our kids off drugs’. That was the intro in the political/fundraising operatives script, but as soon as I responded that I was too busy to chat about keeping kids off drugs, the reply was the ‘Dalton McGuinty is making life way too busy for honest businessmen down there in Ontario.’ Bingo, the call was sooo obviously an attempt to identify people who are burning to keep our kids off dope, and who do not like Dalton McGuinty. I ditched the call, and I am willing to bet folding money that there is an entry next to my name in CIMS to the effect that I do not care about kids doing drugs. Mind you the call was probably not illegal at all. The marketing firm will have quite a number of Conservative friendly charities happy to pay the tab to raise funds. They will not be displeased if their donors make it into a Conservative database, and the data is being used ‘for political purposes’, so it is not a breach of my privacy under the act. The issues will change over time. They will cover everything under the sun, but they will all have in common that they are issues that the CPC feels they either own, or can make inroads on.

So this database is owned by the Conservative Party of Canada. They have spent many many millions of dollars on building their database over time. They have traded, bartered, and otherwise acquired data from third parties, and issues based advocacy groups. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL THE CONSERVATIVES OWN! It has propelled them from a rump party to majority government in one short decade. I have heard arguments put forward that the CPC has nothing to do with any illegal calls, that there was a rogue staffer, or some shadowy figures that did the dastardly deeds. I do not believe it, and here’s why. At this moment, Elections Canada claims that over 31,000 people have come forward with complaints that they were mis-directed by phony Elections Canada workers to vote at non-existent polling stations. These complaints probably only represent a small portion of people who actually received those calls. Our household received such a call on election day, but I did not preserve a record, and did not complain to Elections Canada. I am sure I am not alone in this. So the mis-direction was NOT isolated to one riding, it happened in many ridings across the country. The implication is that the person who uploaded that phone list to the robo-calling company was not relying on a local riding level database, they had access to the whole national Database.
Then there is the sheer volume of calls. Robo-calling is fairly cheap, but it isn’t free when you start calling tens of thousands of people. Many of these calls were reported as coming from live telemarketers. Folks, live calling is many things, but cheap it is not. Even if only 10% of the 31,000 complainants to date were substantiated, that still adds up to a lot of money. And it is probable that if there were 31,000 reported incidents, there were many times that number that went unreported. That is a surmise, but I do not for a second think that the number of suppression calls was limited to the 31,000 complainants.

So here we are. If indeed the Liberal and NDP vote were suppressed by a rogue Conservative operative, then the perp was someone placed highly enough in the Conservative Party that they enjoyed an enormous amount of trust. They were trusted with unfettered access to the most valuable political database in Canada. They had the tools and skills to search that database, and abstract lists of Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters from different postal codes across the whole country. They had access to considerable funds, and multiple contacts with robo-calling companies, and telemarketing firms with live operators. That is quite incredible isn’t it? And I mean incredible in the exact sense that it is beyond credulity; unbelievable even.

So let us assume, without prejudice, that it was in fact some rogue in the CPC who implemented this campaign. How could they be ferretted out? One potential key would be to gain access to the phone lists uploaded to the robo-dialling companies server. If these lists could be correlated to any direct search of the CIMS database, then it would be extremely convincing evidence that the data originated with CIMS. In other words, if the RCMP were to gain access to CIMS, and if any of the uploaded phone lists correlated precisely to say, identified Liberal, NDP, and Green supporters as at the date of the data upload, then the odds that the data was in fact abstracted from CIMS would be astronomically in favour. CIMS is well enough protected that there will be records of who had access, and what exact searches and downloads were performed by password protected account holders. I think that if the lists of illegal calls matched a list downloaded by a specific operative, that would be a pretty good clue to work on. If there were in fact multiple different lists, uploaded, or supplied to different telemarketing firms, then the possibility that it was in fact a rogue operative decreases. If there were in fact multiple different lists, and they correlated to downloads performed by more than one operative, then it immediately turns into a criminal conspiracy.

The evidence is accruing that a criminal, or criminals conducted a relatively sophisticated and highly effective voter suppression campaign. This is not a small thing. It is worthy of a Russian election, or some of those quaint ‘democracies’ in poverty stricken resource rich countries. It offends Canadians of all political stripes that such things took place on such a scale. Because it affects the very basis of our Civil life; That the voters decide, and that an impartial civil service shall ensure a fair and free vote. I believe that a full scale judicial inquiry is called for. It will take the coercive powers of a Judge to compel testimony and secure evidence from the various actors involved. Can you imagine how long it will take for the Police to follow through with all those different robo-calling and telemarketing firms? How about compelling Government Ministers and elected MP’s to co-operate? Can you see the Mounties resisting the urge to whitewash their political soul-mates? To do a proper job, they would have to drill down to the actual operators making the calls, finding out who developed the script they used, who paid for it all. That is the second unexplored element to the scandal, who the heck paid for it all? Was it disguised as legitimate elections expenses? If that were the case, then once again the Canadian electorate will have been defrauded when the political entity that falsely reported these as elections expenses got a 60% rebate of election expenses from the Taxpayer. If it was NOT reported as an elections expense, then it was a criminal breach in a second respect, that being unreported spending. Either way, a crime was committed in addition to the vote suppression. Do you begin to see why a Judicial inquiry is called for? The implications are HUGE! There is no way that one single law was broken, and I for one would prefer to have a Judge do the digging, with the authority to investigate beyond the original reported infractions. We simply must get to the bottom of this. It started in previous elections with sleazy voter suppression techniques that bordered on the illegal. Now we have systematic electoral fraud going on. If we do not care about living in a banana republic, then I guess we can ignore these kinds of criminal acts by our political elites. If however we are disgusted, and find this behaviour un-acceptable, then it is time for a public shaming, and jail sentences for the scum-balls who perpetrated these crimes.

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