How can taxpayer dollars be used for campaign purposes?

A few weeks ago, APT filed requests for records with the Michigan Governor’s office regarding a contract with a partner of NGP VAN, a political data firm that primarily services Democratic and progressive campaigns. The issue with the contract is simply that taxpayer dollars cannot be used for political purposes nor should a pandemic be exploited for a politicized opportunity. This is NOT an isolated incident, however, because Members of Congress are also spending on these same types of political services. While some Members have also used and paid for NGP VAN with official dollars, over 30 members used the services of another political data firm, Catalist.

What is Catalist?

Like NGP VAN, Catalist “provides data and data-related services to progressive organizations.” Additionally, Catalist describes their clients as “progressive organizations that share [their] values.” Among the organizations listed are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (“DCCC”) and DSPolitical, the self-described “leading digital advertising company for Democratic candidates and progressives causes.” Press reports have called Catalist a “Democratic data firm” that “provide[s] voter-targeting information to campaigns and party organizations.” They have also been called a “indispensable tactical resource for the American left.”

Who is Using Catalist?

According to the FEC, candidates and political committees spent over $538,530 for Catalist during the 2018 election cycle, and $445,394 has already been spent for the 2020 cycle. So if campaigns are using Catalist for political purposes, why would 31 members of the House use Catalist for their official, representational duties? This is a political tool for political purposes; yet, $117,718.00 in federal tax dollars were spent to enable members a service that should be paid for by their campaign.

These members include:

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo
Rep. Eric Swalwell
Rep. G.K. Butterfield
Rep. Jimmy Panetta
Rep. Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Julia Brownley
Rep. Karen Bass
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Mark Desaulnier
Rep. Norma J. Torres
Rep. Pete Aguilar
Rep. Raul Ruiz
Rep. Scott H. Peters
Rep. Ted Lieu
Rep. Tony Cardenas
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Rep. Cheri Bustos
Rep. Gil Cisneros
Rep. Grace F. Napolitano
Rep. Harley Rouda
Rep. Lou Correa
Rep. Josh Harder
Rep. Lois Frankel
Rep. Angie Craig
Rep. Katie Hill
Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Rep. Katie Porter
Rep. Mike Levin
Rep. Ruben Gallego
Rep. Tom Malinowski

Even more troubling, many of these data platforms rely on information sharing by its users. Reportedly, “every contract required a customer to contribute something of value back to Catalist.” Thus, not only are these representatives purchasing political data with taxpayer resources, but they are potentially using their official office and staff to furnish constituent data to a political organization. Members of Congress have access to the personal information of their constituents through the performance of official constituent casework and other means, so any unauthorized disclosure would violate the law. Moreover, using official staff time for data-entry that provided information to Catalist for partisan campaign purposes is prohibited.

The purchase of Catalist with official House office funds is a violation of federal law, which prohibits taxpayer dollars to be used for political purposes or to help members gain re-election. Additionally, Members are in violation of rules of the House by spending money for political purposes. Therefore, the House would be well served by an investigation into the practice of using political data firms by Members of Congress.