Two years before helping Donald Trump target prospective 2016 supporters, the now-embattled data firm Cambridge Analytica tested its tools with an array of conservative groups allied with the wealthy Mercer family, including a super PAC run by newly appointed national security adviser John Bolton.
The fledgling company courted groups on the right for work on the 2014 midterms with pitches about its “psychographic” profiling, which relied in part on data that appears to have been obtained improperly from tens of millions of American users of Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica executives aggressively sought the backing of rich GOP donors, who they believed would help the company “effectively corner the market” in the United States, internal records show. To win them over, executives sought to craft personal appeals drawn from information housed in the company’s extensive database of American voters.
At one point, Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix decided to build a psychological profile of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s stepdaughter and son-in-law and present it to Adelson — a move that would give his pitch a “wow” factor, he predicted to his employees.
“Can we pull a LOAD of data on them????” Nix asked his researchers, who followed through, according to emails provided to The Washington Post by former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie.
Adelson adviser Andy Abboud said Nix did not end up presenting the profiles when he met with the Cambridge Analytica chief executive that year.
“Generally speaking, coming in with a profile of us would not have gone over well,” Abboud told The Post in an email Friday. “They met with me I believe, but it was nothing that we found interesting, and the pitch was not compelling.”
Internal documents and interviews with former Cambridge Analytica employees illustrate how intently the company — a spinoff of a British firm — worked to win over U.S. political clients for the 2014 midterms.
At the time, the company had access to Facebook data that had been obtained by a researcher for academic purposes and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook executives said last week. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into whether the sharing of the Facebook data violated a 2011 consent decree that governs Facebook’s privacy practices.
Nix, who was suspended this week amid the controversy, did not respond to a request for comment. But in a statement released Friday, Cambridge Analytica’s acting chief executive, Alexander Tayler, expressed regret over the firm’s handling of the Facebook data, which he said was deleted in 2015. He said the board has launched a “full and independent” investigation into the practices of the firm’s British parent company.
Cambridge Analytica was launched in 2013 by the wealthy Mercer family and conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon, later a top Trump adviser, in an effort to give conservatives an edge in the political data game.
Late that year, Nix hosted Bannon, then-executive chairman of Breitbart News, and Texas energy investor Toby Neugebauer at a dinner at the exclusive Carlton Club in London, according to a copy of the invitation.
Over a dinner of venison, duck terrine and roasted lamb, researchers at SCL Elections presented their methodology and case…