About six weeks before a scandal broke that eventually ended the Cambridge Analytica consulting firm, an Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate paid the company more than $50,000 for polling services.
Gary Richardson, a Tulsa-based lawyer running for governor as a Republican, reported in his latest campaign filing that he paid Cambridge Analytica $52,600 on Feb. 2. Cambridge Analytica is widely credited with steering President Donald Trump’s 2016 social media strategy, and is believed to have helped direct the social media strategy for groups wanting Britain to leave the European Union earlier that year.
About six weeks after Richardson’s campaign paid Cambridge Analytica, news broke that the agency covertly collected personally identifiable information about more than 80 million Facebook users, information that was deep enough to allow the company to create profiles of each person whose data had been collected.
Richardson, responding to questions via email, told The Frontier on Friday that his campaign didn’t use any information the company turned over and had ended its relationship with Cambridge Analytica about a week before the scandal broke. Richardson said Cambridge Analytica “failed to deliver the product we had purchased in a timely fashion.”
“We terminated our relationship on March 12th, 2018,” Richardson wrote. “That was about one week before any of us were told how CA really operated. It’s very important to note — we have used absolutely nothing provided to us by CA.”
A review of campaign expenditure reports filed by each of the gubernatorial candidates shows Richardson was the only candidate to report utilizing Cambridge Analytica’s services.
Richardson said Cambridge Analytica reached out to his campaign in early 2018, and, given the company’s success with the campaigns of both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, “we were initially looking forward to working together.”
“We hoped to duplicate the successful outcomes CA seemed to deliver to other campaigns,” Richardson said. “At the time, of course, we had no inside knowledge of how they ran their operation.”
The company, based in the UK, gathered identifiable data on Facebook users through an app that would secretly grant the company access to not just the personal information of the user, but of everyone connected to that person through the social media platform.
The scandal ended with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of Congress, apologizing for Facebook’s inability to notice the breach in its early stages. Cambridge Analytica closed its doors on Thursday, though some analysts believe it will eventually re-emerge under a different moniker.
Richardson said they had requested “some pretty basic polling and research” from Cambridge Analytica.
“When the news broke about CA’s dubious data-mining process, it re-affirmed that we had made the right decision to end our relationship with them the week before,” Richardson wrote. “We thought we were dealing with a legitimate and reputable company and we had no reason to suspect otherwise until we found out, along with everyone else, (that) CA was not what it appeared to be.”
Cambridge Analytica had close ties to President Donald Trump, having taken over data operations for Trump’s campaign in 2016. Richardson, a Trump supporter, has even co-opted some of Trump’s phrasing on the campaign trail.
For instance, Richardson has long been a proponent of making toll roads free. Drivers headed to Oklahoma City on Interstate-44 will see a billboard with Richardson campaign sticker and a big red hat emblazoned with the phrase “Make Toll Roads Free Again,” a play on Trump’s famous “Make America Great Again” hat.
Richardson reported raising $101,006.78 in the latest filing period, which covered the first three months of 2018. His campaign boasts total contributions in excess of more than $1 million, though much of that has come from his own pocketbook.
In recent Magellan Strategies poll of likely Republican primary voters, Richardson was fourth (at 12 percent) behind Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb (19 percent,) Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and fellow-Tulsan Kevin Stitt (both at 17 percent.)
Richardson also polled fourth in a recent Soonerpoll, which had Cornett (22 percent) in the lead ahead of Lamb (21.2 percent) and Stitt, (7.8 percent.)
Richardson has come under some scrutiny lately for a campaign commercial he released that uses the death of famous Oklahoma broadcast Bob Barry Jr. to illustrate Richardson’s anti-illegal immigration stance.
Barry was killed on June 20, 2015, when the scooter he was driving struck a vehicle driven by Gustavo Gutierrez. Gutierrez, police said, had made an illegal u-turn just before Barry struck his vehicle.
Gutierrez had no previous criminal record, but KFOR reported he had previously been deported three times. Court records show Gutierrez eventually pleaded guilty to causing an accident while driving a vehicle without a valid driver’s license, resulting in death, and possession of cocaine.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Richardson’s commercial uses Barry’s death to highlight the “hundreds of millions of dollars” it says illegal immigrants cost Oklahoma taxpayers every year.
“Gary Richardson will help President Trump fight illegal immigration,” the ad states.
Barry’s family was apparently caught off guard by the ad, and Barry’s son Matt told Oklahoma City station KFOR the family did “not appreciate the liberties taken by Mr. Richardson and his campaign.”
“First and foremost, the Barry Family finds it deeply concerning that Mr. Richardson chose to feature the tragic and untimely death of our Father in his campaign advertisement without seeking consent,” Matt Barry wrote in the statement. “The last few years have been a very difficult time for the Barry family as we’re still reeling from this unexpected loss. Although we have no personal dislike for Mr. Richardson or his political ambitions, we find it very troubling that Mr. Richardson ran an advertisement that could imply that the Barry family endorses in any way his election as Governor of the State of Oklahoma. In sum, the Barry family does not appreciate the liberties taken by Mr. Richardson and his campaign; and condemn the utter lack of respect shown towards our tragic loss.”
Richardson has defended the commercial, saying he “had no way” to contact the Barry family prior to airing the ad. KFOR also complained about the ad, saying that while they were required to air it, they disapproved of the campaign using their former reporter’s death in the commercial.
Richardson has since replied that KFOR raised no objections to the ad until “after they took my money.” He discontinued ad buys on that network since the uproar.