This article titled “Cambridge Analytica’s US election work may violate law, legal complaint argues” was written by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 27th March 2018 04.58 Asia/Kolkata
Cambridge Analytica and its parent company have been accused of potentially violating US election law by allowing its chief executive and other British citizens to play a significant role in US campaigns, according to legal complaints filed on Monday with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission.
The pair of complaints, brought by the nonpartisan government watchdog Common Cause, call on federal prosecutors and regulators to investigate whether the UK-based data analytics group violated a US law barring foreign nationals from participating in certain election-related activities through its work for Donald Trump’s campaign.
The complaints allege that several Cambridge Analytica employees, including Alexander Nix, the company’s CEO who was recently suspended, performed significant work that constituted being part of the “decision-making process” in campaigns during the 2014 and 2016 US election cycles.
Employees who worked for Cambridge Analytica in the US in recent years have told the Guardian that rather than addressing the challenges imposed by US election law, management appeared to ignore the issue.
The filing comes as Cambridge Analytica faces intense scrutiny after the Observer revealed that it acquired the data of as many as 50 million Facebook users, harvested by another company without users’s express consent, to create a system that could target US voters with political ads and other personalized posts based on their psychological profile.
The legal complaints both state that during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles: “Cambridge Analytica LTD and its sister company, SCL Group Limited, and numerous employees of the London-based companies repeatedly violated the prohibition on foreign nationals performing certain election-related activities.”
The complaints also name Nigel Oakes, the founder of Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, and Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica contractor-turned whistleblower who helped build the algorithm using Facebook user data.
“We are a nation of laws and our campaign finance laws must be enforced by the FEC and the justice department in order to safeguard the integrity of our elections from foreign interference,” Karen Hobert Flynn, the president of Common Cause, said in a statement.
The complaint cites reports that Cambridge Analytica had been advised in 2014 by an American election lawyer that the arrangement of its contracts could violate the US laws limiting the role of foreign nationals in the country’s elections. The lawyer’s memo was addressed to Nix, Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser who at the time held a position on Cambridge Analytica’s board, and Rebekah Mercer, a Republican mega-donor and key investor in the firm.
The complaint filed with the justice department also cites more than $800,000 in services by Cambridge Analytica in 2016 to a political action committee headed by John Bolton, who was tapped as Trump’s new national security adviser last week. According to documents obtained by the Guardian, Bolton’s work with Cambridge Analytica included a project in 2014 to target YouTube videos to US voters based on different psychographic data. A spokesperson for Bolton, who was recently appointed by Donald Trump as the new White House national security adviser, said he was “completely unaware” of the allegations.
“Based on published reports, there is reason to believe that certain US nationals operating and/or working for Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, and political committee clients of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group, may have aided and abetted offenses against the United States, conspired to commit offenses against the United States, and/or attempted to conspire to commit offenses against the United States in violation of the US criminal code,” the Common Cause complaint states.
A justice department spokeswoman declined to comment. Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond when contacted by the Guardian about the latest allegations.
The company has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and pushed back against allegations that the company obtained or misused data from Facebook during the 2016 campaign. Last week, Cambridge Analytica’s acting chief executive, Alexander Tayler, apologised in a statement that its affiliate, SCL Elections, had licensed Facebook data and derivatives in 2014 from the research company GSR, which he said “had not received consent from most respondents”.
But Tayler maintained that Cambridge Analytica “believed that the data had been obtained in line with Facebook’s terms of service and data protection laws”. He added: “As anyone who is familiar with our staff and work can testify, we in no way resemble the politically motivated and unethical company that some have sought to portray.”
Tayler’s apology came shortly after the company’s board suspended Nix in the wake of secret recordings broadcast on Channel 4, in which the former CEO bragged about Cambridge Analytica’s role in Trump’s victory.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting,” Nix told an undercover reporter. “We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”
According to FEC records, Cambridge Analytica was paid nearly $6m by Trump’s campaign and roughly $5.8m by former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s campaign during the 2016 election cycle.
The firm’s other clients in 2016 included Ben Carson, who also for Republican presidential nomination and now serves as Trump’s secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Make America Number 1, a Super Pac that supported Trump’s and Cruz’s campaigns.
Last week, an internal company document obtained by the Guardian revealed how Cambridge Analytica used intensive survey research, data modeling and performance-optimising algorithms to micro-target US voters in the months leading up to the November election. The presentation was produced by the Cambridge Analytica employees who worked most closely on Trump’s campaign.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010