Tillis, NCGOP scrutinized for ties to Facebook data breach firm

In the midst of a scandal involving the harvesting of tens of millions of Facebook profiles for political gain, the North Carolina Democratic Party is pointing to the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and the North Carolina Republican Party in 2014.

Cambridge Analytica, which worked with President Donald Trump's election team, is under fire about reports it harvested 50 million Facebook profiles of U.S. voters in a massive data breach aimed at influencing presidential voters.

"It appears that North Carolina was the guinea pig for what we saw in 2016, going back to 2014," said North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin.

Goodwin points to federal election filings in 2014 showing the Tillis campaign paid $30,000 to Cambridge Analytica. The filings also show a $150,000 payment from the NC GOP.

A whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, revealed that the company in 2014 built a system to profile individual voters - turning user's Facebook activity into personalized political ads.

"These likes would then be harvested from you as the user and all your friends and be used to develop an algorithm that could then profile the user's personality traits and psychological disposition," Wylie told CNN.

ABC11 asked Goodwin whether the NCDP was alleging that Tillis or the NC GOP knew what Cambridge Analytica was doing.

"We don't know. We want to ask them. We want to know what did their campaigns know and when did they know it," Goodwin answered. "I ask Sen. Tillis and the Republican Party of North Carolina to disavow this and say they will not rely upon that data. And, that whoever has this data should delete it."

In an email to ABC11, Tillis spokesperson Daniel Keylin said, "Per Senate rules/decorum we don't answer campaign questions, so I'll refer you to the NC GOP."

ABC11 reached out to the NC GOP. Late Monday night, in a statement, Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the NC GOP said:

"The vendor in question was one of several contracted to do work on the (party's) direct mail program. The company was not hired and did not do social media work for the party.

They have not been engaged in nearly four years and there are no plans to use the company in the future. Any vendor that operated in less than a transparently ethical manner is forbidden from future work.

However, at some point (Democrats) are going to have to stop looking under imaginary rocks to excuse their own electoral failures. At some point, they are going to have to accept that their presidential candidate was simply not attractive to enough voters, including many of their own, in the right states to win."

In response to the firestorm, Facebook said it has banned Cambridge Analytica from its platform.

In the meantime, President Trump's campaign responded to the scandal Monday by saying it never used the data in question.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.