Steyer and Pelosi Poured Money into Firm Behind Botched Iowa App

Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor with Paul and Nancy Pelosi at the Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary celebration / Drew Altizer Photography
February 4, 2020

Acronym, the dark-money group behind the mobile app that derailed the news cycle by causing widespread delays in the Iowa caucus results, received funding from the political operations of Tom Steyer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, financial records reveal.

Acronym acquired Shadow Inc., the tech firm that developed the app used to tabulate results in the Iowa caucus, in early 2019. According to public records and tax forms reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, both Acronym's nonprofit arm and its affiliated political action committee have been the beneficiaries of huge volumes of liberal dark money.

Among Acronym's close relationships, the filings show, are powerful politicians and wealthy donors who frequently come under fire from the Democratic Party's left-wing. Those tight connections with the Democratic establishment could lead to more questions amid the post-Iowa furor and may provoke further outrage from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

Acronym's nonprofit arm—which does not disclose its funders—received $300,000 in donations in 2018 from the House Majority PAC, a Pelosi-affiliated committee that works to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. That same year, Federal Election Commission records show, Steyer's NextGen Climate Action Committee made a $45,000 donation to the nonprofit and paid another $90,000 for its data consulting services.

The group's tax documents, which were provided to the Free Beacon last September and are not yet publicly available, show that the nonprofit raised more than $1.2 million from 12 anonymous donors during its first year in operation in 2017. A representative from the group said at the time that its 2018 tax forms would be filed to the IRS in March 2020.

Acronym's PAC, Pacronym, was also a major beneficiary of wealthy Democrats' funding. The committee received six-figure contributions from director Steven Spielberg, former actress Kate Capshaw, and liberal billionaire George Soros's Democracy PAC in late 2019.

The forms obtained by the Free Beacon also indicate that Acronym is affiliated with digital media company Lockwood Strategy Inc., with the two sharing a Washington, D.C., address. Both groups are led by Tara McGowan, who previously worked for Priorities USA, Steyer's NextGen PAC, and President Obama's reelection campaign. Lockwood Strategy received $145,000 for consulting services in 2018 from the Win Justice PAC, which was first bankrolled with a $3 million check from liberal billionaire George Soros as part of a campaign to target infrequent voters in swing states.

Acronym, House Majority PAC, and NextGen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their relationship or funding.

Acronym was created following the Democrats' historic defeat in the 2016 elections and was meant as a digital outfit to rival the Trump campaign's own online operation, which one Facebook executive called "the single best digital ad campaign he's ever seen." In 2018, it pulled in $18 million, registered 60,000 voters, and produced more than 10,000 Facebook ads. Acronym poured large sums into Virginia's 2019 elections and helped bankroll a news site in the state that drew scrutiny for pushing a pro-Democratic message while billing itself as unaffiliated news.

Shadow, the tech firm Acronym acquired, developed a mobile app that the Iowa Democratic Party expected to use to report results in Monday evening's caucus. But as results began to pour in from across the Hawkeye state, the software malfunctioned, leading to severe delays in tabulating the results and driving up tempers among Democratic activists. By Tuesday morning, hours after the Republican party had called its own caucus, there was still no clear victor in sight.

Following the tumult of Monday evening, Acronym now finds itself at the center of the Iowa firestorm. Recent reports indicated that Democratic officials in the state were warned about significant issues with the app in the days leading up to the caucuses. Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said Tuesday morning that the department's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had previously offered to test the app but was rebuffed.

Acronym released a statement claiming they did not provide technology to the state or national parties and that it only "invested" in Shadow. McGowan, however, in January 2019 tweeted about Acronym "launching Shadow, a new tech company to build smarter infrastructure for campaigns." David Plouffe, the former Obama campaign manager who sits on Acronym's board, claimed on Tuesday that he did not know about the app. Acronym has additionally attempted to scrub its website and downplay its connections to Shadow, the Daily Beast reported.

Nonetheless, the Iowa disaster has pushed the Nevada Democratic Party to abandon the app ahead of its own caucuses. The Iowa fallout has also led to rumblings of getting rid of the caucus altogether, blame for which would fall in large part at Acronym's feet.

Published under: Nancy Pelosi , Tom Steyer