How the owners of a 'vital Democratic data firm' are helping elect 'authoritarian far-right' Republicans: report

How the owners of a 'vital Democratic data firm' are helping elect 'authoritarian far-right' Republicans: report
A polling place in 2016, Lorie Shaull

TargetSmart is a data firm that works with major players in the Democratic Party, from the Democratic National Committee to state democratic parties. According to Mother Jones' David Corn, TargetSmart's owners and founders have another association: extremist far-right Republicans.

Corn reports, "A Mother Jones investigation found that the owners and founders of TargetSmart also own a company that earns millions by helping to elect Republicans, including far-right GOP state legislators who have tried to overturn the 2020 election results, who were involved in the January 6 march on the U.S. Capitol that turned into a seditious riot, and who have been part of the Republican crusade to skew election laws against the Democrats. That is, the parent company of this vital Democratic data firm is profiting by aiding conservative and authoritarian political forces that seek to defeat the Democrats and progressives supported by TargetSmart."

Corn describes TargetSmart as a "for-profit company that few Democratic voters, grassroots activists or cable news junkies have ever head of" but notes that it "provides crucial services to" the DNC and other major players in the Democratic Party.

"The involvement of TargetSmart's owners in electing right-wing Republicans has remained unknown among the political professionals within Democratic and progressive campaign circles," Corn explains. "Informed about this, a former technology specialist for the Democrats says, 'This is not a good look for TargetSmart.'"

Mother Jones also interviewed a union official, who presumably spoke on condition of anonymity and told the publication, "This is pretty damning…. In the world (TargetSmart) occupies, it couldn't be much worse. A lot of Democratic consulting firms do work for corporations that don't always support Democrats or progressives. But to have a sister company working on behalf of Republicans is not good for its standing."

According to Corn, "TargetSmart is owned by a holding company called the TARA Group, which itself is owned by Jeffrey Ferguson and Drew Brighton, two of the four original founders of TargetSmart…. Ferguson spent many years working for Democratic senators and various Democratic Party organizations before TargetSmart was launched in 2006…. The TARA Group also owns three other firms: American Strategies, Real Strategies, and Access Marketing Services…. (Access) says it has been hired for 1028 candidate campaigns — and that includes campaigns that elect Republican office seekers."

Corn also notes that "several of the Arizona Republicans aided by Access Marketing Services championed Trump's Big Lie that he lost the election due to massive fraud. Anthony Kern, who failed in his state representative reelection bid in 2020, has been a Stop the Steal advocate who attended the January 6 riot at the Capitol."

But even thought TargetSmart, according to Corn, has a "direct corporate link to a company aiding Republican candidates," the firm insists that the link doesn't affect the work it does for Democrats.

A TargetSmart spokesperson told Mother Jones, "TargetSmart is separate from and run independently of the other companies controlled by its owners…. TargetSmart's service agreement with clients is very clear: we do not allow our data to be used by any organization that is affiliated with the Republican Party."

TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier spoke to Mother Jones as well, saying, "TargetSmart is proud to be the leading data provider to Democratic parties and progressive organizations. In recent years, TargetSmart has been able to invest roughly $20 million back into the progressive data infrastructure. Historically, many political firms grow in even years and contract in odd years. We're changed the model by building a company that's grown year after year while staying true to our progressive values."

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