Organization Trends

The Establishment Connections of Iowa Caucus App Company Shadow

You know the story by now: A company called Shadow, launched by a nonprofit known as ACRONYM, developed the app used by the Iowa Democratic Party that malfunctioned and sent the 2020 Iowa caucuses into chaos. Pete Buttigieg’s campaign had paid the company allegedly for text message outreach services, while one of the campaign’s senior strategists, Michael Halle, is coincidentally married to Tara McGowan, the founder of both Shadow and ACRONYM. But do you know the full extent of ACRONYM’s connections?

First, Shadow’s key employees—chief executive officer Gerard Niemira, chief operating officer James Hickey, chief technology officer Krista Davis, and senior project manager Ahna Rao—all worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Moreover, when Tara McGowan was working at the Democratic-aligned Super PAC Priorities USA, she was involved in various efforts to drive up support for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. She ran video ads of Obama administration staffers endorsing Clinton on social media platforms and specifically targeted Latino and African American voters with pro-Clinton ads. McGowan was also a staffer on Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.


It seems like Hillary Clinton remembered the favor, since on November 5, 2019, she publicly endorsed a $75 million campaign that PACRONYM, McGowan’s political action committee, had recently started. The campaign, entitled Four is Enough in reference to President Donald Trump’s time in office, is targeting battleground states in the 2020 election and is being advised by David Plouffe, a manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. To raise its small dollar donations, PACRONYM uses the pass-through group ActBlue, a PAC used by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

PACRONYM has received substantial contributions from billionaire Seth Klarman, financier Donald Sussman, film director Steven Spielberg, financier George Soros, media figure Fred Eychaner, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and its sister group ACRONYM.

PACRONYM pays Lockwood Strategy Lab ostensibly for consulting, which was also founded by McGowan. It paid Lockwood $1,000,000 to run ads for Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania and made contributions to High Ground and Progress NC Action for similar electoral activities.

Lockwood Strategy Lab

Lockwood Strategy Lab’s first client was Planned Parenthood. It has since done numerous jobs for the Democratic Party of Virginia, Planned Parenthood Votes, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Win Justice, Women Vote!, and Community Change Voters.

Lockwood is also strongly affiliated with Courier Newsroom, which is a network of local news outlets—the Copper Courier in Arizona, the Dogwood in Virginia, and UpNorthNews in Wisconsin, among others—that are really all part of a single operation, founded by McGowan. Left-leaning donors use Courier Newsroom to push editorialized commentary in swing states to try to influence elections.

Democratic Party Connections

ACRONYM itself works with many Democratic Party–related interest groups around the country, including the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (having formed a $10 million campaign to bring back 75 Democratic legislative seats with these two), Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and Everytown for Gun Safety. ACRONYM has paid substantial sums for media campaigns to be run by GMMB Inc., a company with strong ties to both the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns.

ACRONYM spent $3 million on Knock the Vote, a voter mobilization campaign that McGowan claimed was to get young people to the polls regardless of party, even though its logo featured a drawing of Trump getting punched in the face.

Since it is such a new group, the question of who is funding ACRONYM is not entirely clear. But Plouffe was certainly able to secure large donations from prominent Democratic donors, such as Michael Moritz, the former leader of Sequioa Capital. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is also reported to have been a founding donor of ACRONYM.

If it has not already been made clear, ACRONYM is heavily connected to the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Expect its work in the future to reflect this.

Shane Devine

Shane Devine is a former Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. Originally from New Jersey, he is a graduate of The New School in New York City.
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