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PAC Supporting Christie Scoops Up Voter Data Across New Hampshire

For months, a political action committee supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been scooping up data about New Hampshire voters who show up at other Republican candidates' campaign events across the Granite State.

While voters have been willingly turning over these data — their names, email addresses, zip codes and candidate preferences — it's unclear whether they realized the information was benefiting Christie.

The America Leads effort springs from a simple campaign reality: When people want to see political candidates in person, they usually need to show up early. "And then while they're waiting, they're on their mobile phones," said Kurt Luidhardt, who runs digital operations for the America Leads PAC. "And a lot of them are on Facebook, looking at what their friends and other folks are saying on Facebook."

So, the political action committee has been running geographically targeted Facebook ads at these events, telling them "check-in is now available" for the rally or town hall they're attending. "Every Republican candidate that has an event in New Hampshire, we do this for," said Luidhardt, who said the PAC does this at Christie events as well.

The ads show up on the phones of people within a mile of the event in question, telling them "event check-in is now available." Click on the ad, and it takes you to a screen asking for your name, email, zip code and which Republican candidate you support.

How unique is this?

Dave Carney, a tech-savvy Republican political operative who's based in New Hampshire, dismisses geofenced ads as commonplace these days — about as "unique as websites were in the '90s."

But using this technology to gather information about opponents' supporters? "I haven't heard of that being done," Carney said. "I'm not sure the gain is worth the pain, in terms of getting caught basically being disingenuous, trolling those supporters."

America Leads doesn't see it that way. Luidhardt argued everything is above board, and that the Facebook ads identify themselves as from the PAC. "I think it's very similar to taking a survey outside an event, asking people where they stand on the campaign," he said. "We aren't misrepresenting ourselves or who we are."

Carney didn't quite buy that argument. "If you stood outside an auditorium or town hall and said, 'Hey, sign up here for the [Rand] Paul event as they were going to hear Senator Paul, but you were really the Christie people, that would be a major blowback."

Regardless, America Leads says it's gotten information about thousands of likely New Hampshire voters this way.

It takes that information and adds it to its big list of information about eligible voters.

Republican digital strategist Patrick Ruffini says that voter information is a "fundamental building block" of modern politics. It allows campaigns to create a list of their most likely supporters, "and prioritize them for outreach based on how likely they are to vote, whether or not they might support you and different, other sorts of characteristics."

That's why most campaigns do everything they can to find out more about these voters, including calling them, knocking on their doors and buying data.

Or, in the case of America Leads, asking people to willingly turn that information over while they wait for campaign events to begin.

In a field where five other candidates are within about three points of Chris Christie in the latest New Hampshire polls, the PAC clearly feels like every piece of data it can gather is worthwhile.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.