Feb 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: ACRONYM co-founder Tara McGowan on Iowa caucus app

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a letter provided first to Axios, ACRONYM co-founder Tara McGowan sought to clear up donor questions about Shadow, the company that produced the app in the Iowa caucuses.

Why it matters: It's the first time ACRONYM has spoken out publicly on the incident since the caucus, which was marred by failures tied to the app.

  • "We have absolutely no interest in covering this up, which has been suggested," McGowan told Axios in a phone call on Wednesday evening.
  • "We just want to make people understand that we are a nonprofit that has invested in Shadow because we believe in [Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira], just as the Iowa Democratic Party did."

McGowan told Axios the Shadow team "made an enormous mistake that has dire consequences in this election and so we want to own that."

  • But she stands by Shadow's efforts to help push the Democratic Party to innovate.
  • "The space was ripe for disruption and innovation. Yet with the ethos of taking great risks means that we can make great mistakes."

What's new: In the letter, McGowan listed a timeline for ACRONYM's relationship with Shadow.

  • She said that ACRONYM "now owns a majority of the company, but there are other private investors too."
  • Niemira told Bloomberg that “the app was sound and good,” but the “problem was caused by a bug in the code that transmits results data into the state party’s data warehouse.”
  • “The bug wasn’t the only issue with the app,” Bloomberg reported. Caucus "chairs were having trouble signing in."

The big picture: News reports immediately following the caucuses identified Shadow as the company behind the app and ACRONYM as the nonprofit with a financial stake in Shadow.

  • In the letter, McGowan emphasized the difference between ACRONYM and PACRONYM, a political action committee.
  • ACRONYM is a nonprofit that both runs its own programming as well as invests in for-profit companies.
  • "We built our organization as a very innovative model in order to really push the envelope and build new things because the way campaigns and the party had operated in 2016 was not getting the job done."

The bottom line: McGowan says that she doesn't want this incident to slow investment in new tech and innovation.

  • "We don't want things like this to discourage people taking risk because the aversion to the risks could be the reason we lose in November."
  • "It would be a real travesty if an error of this nature told everyone to stop taking risks and doing things differently,” she said. “It’s why we do things differently. Shadow is one piece of the overall structure that we created, but a minor but critical one in this moment.”

Go deeper: Read McGowan's full letter

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