Democratic Activist Issues Mea Culpa to Hollywood Donors at Iowa Caucus

Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party Troy Price - Getty - H 2020
JOSHUA LOTT/AFP via Getty Images

ACRONYM founder Tara McGowan has reached out to six-figure donors including Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and J.J. Abrams to try and outflank the online criticism she has received in the last 48 hours over the super PAC's role in the Shadow vote-reporting app.

The political strategist at the center of the Iowa caucus debacle is doing damage control with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, in the wake of scrutiny of her company's role in developing Shadow, the vote-reporting app that caused much of the vote-counting meltdown.

"It pains me immensely that we have brought any question or doubt to your minds about our ability to do this work following the error by the Shadow team and the events that unfolded in Iowa," wrote Tara McGowan, founder of the nonprofit ACRONYM, which was the lead investor in the company that designed Shadow. McGowan’s letter was sent to her list of donors, which includes everyone from Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, to Jeffrey Katzenberg and J.J. Abrams, all of whom cut six-figure checks to ACRONYM's affiliated super PAC, PACRONYM.

After it was revealed that the Shadow app was largely responsible for the inconsistencies that held up the Iowa caucus results for more than a day, McGowan — a former Barack Obama campaign aide — has been getting pilloried online. Critics have accused her of just about everything — from being a Democratic establishment insider who’s trying to rig the election to operating a shadowy Koch Brothers-like organization where she stands to enrich herself. None of it holds up to much scrutiny.

In her letter, which was sent out Wednesday morning, McGowan lays out the logic behind the byzantine structure she used to establish an array of entities over the past few years, which include a 501c4 nonprofit organization, a 527 super PAC and several for-profit corporations, including the one that developed the Shadow app. "In three short years, we grew from a small start-up nonprofit with a bold vision to change the way we run progressive advocacy campaigns to a loose network of five distinct entities," she wrote. Her letter was also a bid to clarify, if not correct, a tweet McGowan sent out in which she seemed to distance her and ACRONYM’s relationship with Shadow. In a statement posted on Twitter, ACRONYM said it was "not a technology company" and had "not provided any technology to the Iowa Democratic Party, Presidential campaigns, or the Democratic National Committee." To critics, that characterization seemed misleading.

For the past few years, McGowan has been toggling between Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles raising tens of millions of dollars with the overall aim of raising and spending $75 million on digital ads to try and defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Along the way she hasn’t minced words about what she calls D.C.’s "entrenched consultant culture" which she says is too self-serving and out of touch with the new worlds of social media and digital advertising. Emails and calls to an ACRONYM spokesperson seeking comment were not returned.

Whether ACRONYM’s role in the Iowa caucus debacle will have a long-term impact on the Democratic Party’s venture-style political startup scene is an open question. Shomik Dutta is a co-founder and partner at Higher Ground Labs, which has invested $15 million into 36 technology startups that support Democratic campaigns, causes and labor unions. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he called ACRONYM one of the most "innovative and important" startups in the Democratic Party and called McGowan one of its most talented operatives. "Shadow was one of a thousand of things that ACRONYM was working on. They are at the forefront of the digital information warfare that the Democrats must wage if they want to win. No one should be judged by a lonely failure. They should be looked at holistically," he said. Dutta added that three startups of Higher Ground Labs' stable of companies were utilized in the Iowa caucus and worked seamlessly. "They’ve never been compromised and never failed their clients and the reason is they have been tested for years," he said.