DES MOINES — A data analytics company that collected Facebook users’ personal information, allegedly to create voter profiles in an attempt to sway elections, also helped Joni Ernst’s 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Iowa.
Cambridge Analytica gathered information from 87 million Facebook users to create voter profiles, according to Facebook. A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower alleges the data was used improperly to aid President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on Tuesday, facing questions about whether the social media giant did enough to protect users’ privacy. And special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible connections between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, according to multiple media reports.
Cambridge Analytica created digital ads supporting Ernst’s campaign in 2014. A company report later touted their success.
In its post-election report, Cambridge Analytica touted the success of its digital advertising created for multiple campaigns across the country. Two example included the Ernst campaign: one had a photo of Ernst with her husband and daughter that reads, “Joni Ernst an Iowa mom with a plan,” and another with photos of then-Congressman Bruce Braley and President Barack Obama that reads, “Washington loves school bureaucrats.” The report touts the number of clicks each ad received.
The Ernst campaign did not pay for the ads. The political committee run by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, paid Cambridge Analytica $133,333 to create digital advertising to support Ernst. The payment was dated Oct. 24, 2014, just 11 days before the election, online federal campaign finance records show.
A spokeswoman for the Ernst campaign said the campaign did not take donations from or employ Cambridge Analytica’s services.
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“Many groups run ads independently, without permission or consent of candidates or elected officials,” Ernst campaign spokeswoman Brook Hougesen said in an email. “Sen. Ernst is pleased that congressional hearings are underway to look into the misuse of Facebook data.”
According to online federal campaign finance records, Robert Mercer, principal owner of Cambridge Analytica, donated $5,200 to Ernst’s campaign in 2013. In 2014, he donated $350,000 to a political committee that funded television campaign ads that praised Ernst and criticized Marc Jacobs, another Republican in the U.S. Senate primary.