A Victoria company that a whistleblower alleges has “disregard for the law” worked on the campaigns of three BC Liberal candidates during the 2017 provincial election.
The company also pitched the BC Liberal Party in July — when many expected a snap election — on using its services, but wasn’t hired, The Tyee has learned.
AggregateIQ worked on the winning campaigns of Doug Clovechok in Columbia River-Revelstoke, who captured a seat held by the NDP, and Mike de Jong in Abbotsford West, BC Liberal spokesperson Emile Scheffel confirmed via email.
Just months later, de Jong’s leadership campaign said it had rejected a proposal from AggregateIQ. “There’d been a bunch of mess around them with the various campaigns they’d been associated with,” said Stephen Carter, the campaign strategist for Mike de Jong’s leadership bid. “I just didn’t feel comfortable they weren’t going to get us in trouble.” Carter did not reveal the firm had worked on de Jong’s election campaign.
The company also worked on BC Liberal candidate David Calder’s losing campaign in Saanich South.
“My understanding is they provided basic digital marketing services similar in scope to those offered by many Canadian vendors,” Scheffel said in the statement.
AggregateIQ has not, however, worked for the party itself, he added. “The party has never contracted the company or provided them with access to any data.”
AggregateIQ has been embroiled in an international controversy about the use of people’s private information to manipulate them for political purposes.
Its work became public knowledge a year ago after it played an outsized role working for the leave side which narrowly came out ahead in the Brexit referendum.
Speaking to a British parliamentary committee last week, whistleblower Christopher Wylie testified about illegal and unethical activity he alleged AggregateIQ had been involved in during elections in several countries, including Nigeria, Trinidad and the United States.
Wylie, the former director of research at SCL Group in London, told the committee he’d been instrumental in setting up AggregateIQ — which he described as a “franchise” of SCL — and talked about the links between SCL, AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and which Wylie has said used unethical techniques to get Facebook data from 50 million Americans.
Neither AggregateIQ’s CEO Zack Massingham nor chief operating officer Jeff Silvester responded to repeated interview requests.
In a March 24 statement posted on its website, AggregateIQ denied any wrongdoing. “AggregateIQ works in full compliance within all legal and regulatory requirements in all jurisdictions where it operates,” it said. “It has never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity. All work AggregateIQ does for each client is kept separate from every other client.”
AggregateIQ’s July pitch to the BC Liberal Party bragged about its work on Brexit, Ted Cruz’s second-place U.S. presidential primary campaign and U.S. elections in 2014 and 2016.
“Over the last 5 years, AggregateIQ has been at the forefront of digital activism and campaigning, providing our clients with technology tools, online engagement strategies, and consulting services that have contributed to a campaign win rate of over 92%,” it said.
The firm had “run thousands of individually crafted online advertising campaigns that enabled our clients to win,” it said.
“The use of data, sophisticated online voter targeting through social media, and the diversification of news outlets through the Internet means that successful campaigns can be more scientific and more targeted in how they approach elections than ever before.
“In order to maximize the effectiveness of this technology, it is important to work with a team that has experience in setting political strategy, developing winning messages, and supporting political ground operations of volunteers and principle politicians and spokespeople.”
It listed “secrets” of campaigning, including that “Winning strategies are built on clearly defined research which targets key voters and understands what drives them.”
And that “You can’t just focus on your core supporters. You need to make them champions of your message to persuade their friends to do likewise.”
The pitch noted that the BC Liberals had given people nothing to vote for in the 2017 campaign and that they’d been outperformed by both the NDP and the Greens on online messaging, organization and responsiveness.
“We will work with your team to ensure that your technology infrastructure meets the needs of a modern responsive campaign,” it said. “We will provide online channel management for all paid media and deliver a winning strategy that encourages engagement, persuasion and sharing.”
Scheffel said the BC Liberals had invited proposals from several vendors to do grassroots fundraising, but the hiring process was cancelled because of the leadership race.
During the BC Liberal leadership race, AggregateIQ worked for Todd Stone’s campaign.
BC Green Party spokesperson Stefan Jonsson said last week that the party had hired AggregateIQ for eight months in 2016 to develop its website and build it a new system for managing its relationship with voters. The company had assured the party that it had deleted all data from B.C. voters that it had received from the Greens, he said.
During question period in Ottawa on Thursday, Green MP Elizabeth May called for a public inquiry into AggregateIQ’s role in the Brexit vote. The company has connections to the federal Liberal Party.