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Aristotle's Misuse of FEC Data Subject of FEC Complaint
Jul 19, 2010 (05:07 PM EDT)
Company Is Selling Downloadable FEC Contributor Data for Soliciting Contributions
WASHINGTON, July 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A complaint was filed today against Aristotle International at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by NGP Software, citing Aristotle's commercial use of downloaded FEC contributor data to enable its clients to solicit contributions. FEC law states that commercial use of FEC data is illegal, as is using such data for soliciting contributions.
In Aristotle's "360" fundraising product, it advertises a "Relationship Manager" feature which plainly uses FEC contributor information, displaying the federal contribution history for individuals with whom a given Aristotle customer has no relationship. Aristotle's web page with a demo of the feature states in as a second sentence, "Our powerful web-based system quickly uncovers relationships that can be targeted for votes, dollars, or grass-roots support." (http://www.aristotle.com/content/view/232/161, emphasis added). An Aristotle ad about the feature states "Only Aristotle can provide the data needed to point the way to the thousands of donors predisposed to contributing to your campaign, PAC or grassroots group. Our powerful web-based system tells you everything you need to know about a prospect or contributor." (Advertisement in Politics Magazine, 3/10/10, emphasis added)
Federal law prohibits selling or using individual contributor data copied from FEC reports: "no information copied from [FEC] reports or statements may be sold or used by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for commercial purposes". (2 U.S.C. section 438(a)(4))
"Aristotle's marketing documents and their online demo clearly offer access, for a fee, to FEC contributor data for the purposes of solicitation, all of which is at the core of what the sale and use prohibition is meant to prevent," said Joe Birkenstock, former Chief Counsel for the Democratic National Committee. Birkenstock is campaign finance counsel to NGP Software, which filed the complaint against Aristotle.
The issue of use of FEC contributor data is particularly relevant this year: the Supreme Court upheld disclosure requirements in the Citizens United decision, and under the DISCLOSE Act passed by the U.S. House on June 24th in response, the types of entities required to report to the FEC would be expanded to include non-profits.
In an earlier FEC enforcement case regarding Aristotle's use of FEC data in their earlier product (Campaign Manager 5/CM5), three FEC Commissioners voted that Aristotle had broken the law, stating, "We cannot ignore the clear statutory language prohibiting any FEC reports or statements from being sold or used by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for any commercial purpose. Accordingly, we voted to find probable cause to believe that Aristotle violated 2 U.S.C. 438(a)(4)." (MUR 5625, FEC Commissioners Statement of Reasons 5/19/10, p. 8)
Aristotle made excuses in that case, saying that the ads stating that clients could use the data for solicitation were a "mistake" that had been corrected; that it was an incidental feature and "nobody uses it"; that its actual purpose was for compliance; and that "you can't download" contribution data. (FEC Hearing Transcript, 9/23/09) Three Commissioners found these excuses to be inaccurate, noting that Aristotle's advertising still promoted using the FEC data for solicitation, and that the feature's use for compliance was "negligible at best." (FEC Commissioners Statement of Reasons 5/19/10, p3 and p. 5) However, the three Republican-appointed Commissioners believed Aristotle's excuses about their CM5 product, and the Commissioners deadlocked 3-3 on whether to proceed against Aristotle. None of the excuses Aristotle made about their CM5 product are available to Aristotle regarding the 360 product. As noted above, Aristotle is explicitly marketing the use of FEC data in 360 for solicitation. Aristotle itself calls the 360 feature "important" and filed for a patent on it this year. And Aristotle's own demo of the 360 feature states, "You can export your connection map to many different standard formats for customized use." So Aristotle cannot use the same excuses again in this case.
Given the importance that Aristotle has given this matter by trying to patent their use of FEC contributor data, NGP believes that the FEC Commissioners will take a hard look at the complaint, and provide a definitive ruling regarding Aristotle's use of FEC data.
About NGP Software
NGP is the leading provider of fundraising and compliance software for Democratic campaigns. NGP is used by over 75% of the Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate; the DNC, DSCC, DCCC, and DGA; over 90% of Democratic state parties; and in total over 1,700 total clients. For 12 years, NGP has helped clients succeed and win by delivering a unique mix of products, political and technology expertise, and outstanding client services. http://www.ngpsoftware.com
SOURCE NGP Software