A note to supporters of ACRONYM

Tara McGowan
Feb 6 · 6 min read

In the wake of the delayed reporting in Iowa, I know there are questions about Shadow and ACRONYM and how we are structured and work to fuel digital innovation and build capacity for progressive causes across the United States. A core tenet for us is that progress requires taking calculated risks and doing things differently. At ACRONYM and its affiliates, this is what we do, this is who we are, and yes, it means that sometimes we, and the companies we invest in, will make mistakes.

How We Got Started

I started ACRONYM as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization soon after the 2016 presidential election with a commitment to build a new non-profit model to build power and digital infrastructure for progressive causes and advocacy campaigns. This non-profit model would invest in for-profit companies that share in our unwavering mission to build power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement. Around the same time, I also started PACRONYM, a 527 Super PAC. As part of our strategy, in 2018, ACRONYM became the sole shareholder of a for-profit corporation, Lockwood Strategy, a digital creative and media campaign consultancy that provides digital campaign consulting services to mission-aligned organizations and services ACRONYM and PACRONYM programs.

Following a successful 2018 election cycle in which ACRONYM and PACRONYM helped progressive candidates win more than 60 state and federal elections, ACRONYM’s board of directors decided to expand our model to invest in cutting-edge political technology, as well as online advertising and voter registration tools. ACRONYM is focused on registering young voters of color and expanding the electorate through digital innovation. PACRONYM is redoubling our commitment to online advertising with a $75 million investment in our “Four is Enough” campaign, a large-scale digital effort to directly take on Trump. And we’re working to build technology infrastructure to equip progressive organizations with organizing and data tools they need to win.

That’s why in early 2019, Shadow was formed with ACRONYM as its lead investor. A new progressive technology company founded by former Groundbase CEO Gerard Niemira, Shadow launched with a mission to support the development of a more nimble, accessible tech ecosystem on the left.

Gerard and I met for the first time in 2018 and found quickly that we shared a common passion for and belief in the need for the development of progressive companies and infrastructure committed to the mission. Gerard is to this day one of the smartest, kindest and most mission-driven humans I have ever met and has dedicated his life and career to helping elect Democrats. At the time we met, Gerard’s company, Groundbase, was struggling to scale as a company that built simple organizing tools. Hustle was dominating the progressive campaign tech market and was bringing in more investment more quickly. By starting a new technology company that would be majority-owned by a non-profit (ACRONYM), Gerard could benefit from a model that would not only enable him to take time to focus on the products and solutions campaigns actually needed to win, but encouraged him to prioritize those projects with the resources to be effective. At the same time, if the company was successful, ACRONYM would reap the benefit of these profits to invest back into its progressive advocacy programs.

While we are investors in Shadow, the company is a distinct for-profit entity, which builds political campaign technology. The company has other private investors too. Shadow also has its own Board of Directors. When it comes to day-to-day operations, Shadow and its full-time employees operate independently from ACRONYM. Payroll, accounting and other systems are also separate. We’re two distinct entities. Gerard sends all Shadow investors quarterly updates on new client acquisitions, profit-and-loss and Shadow product updates. As CEO of an organization invested in Shadow, I was aware of Shadow’s contract with the Iowa Democratic Party but was not aware of the details of the contract or app development. To be clear: I own no equity in Shadow, nor any other entities affiliated with ACRONYM and have not been compensated by Shadow.

In addition to Lockwood Strategy and Shadow Inc, ACRONYM invested in a third for-profit company, Courier Newsroom last year. Courier Newsroom is a digital news media company staffed by journalists, editors and content producers, who run state and community-centered news properties online that take a progressive lens to reporting on national, state and local politics and issues of importance to its audiences. At a time when local newspapers and media outlets are going out of business practically every day, and misinformation and disinformation are spreading online by a rapidly growing network of fake and conservative news platforms, Courier is committed to countering misinformation spread online.

Like Lockwood and Shadow, Courier is majority owned by the 501(c)(4) non-profit, so if and when Courier is profitable, those profits will be returned back to ACRONYM, rather than to individual stakeholders, in order to fund more technology experimentation, innovation and impact designed to benefit the broader progressive movement. Our movement is in desperate need of diversified funding streams to fuel good work and this structure was designed explicitly to address this gap head-on, and hopefully to create more resources for the movement to sustain investment in innovation in the process.

While all of these entities each operate independently of one another with separate financial structures and operating systems, and are governed by distinct leadership teams and boards of directors, I am proud that they each share a common mission to build power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.

Where We Are Now

This investment model is precisely what differentiates Shadow from other tech firms. It also in many ways illustrates why the Iowa Democratic Party placed their trust in Gerard and Shadow to build something that had never been built before — a high-risk challenge that Gerard and his team were excited and proud to take on — to drive innovation in one of the most historic and important political events in our nation. Gerard and Shadow set out to solve for human error in a complicated election cycle. The team did the absolute best they could under a compressed timeline.

Gerard spoke with Bloomberg last night, going on the record for the first time to give a full and transparent account and technical rundown of what actually happened in Iowa Monday night. He and the Shadow team are committed to being 100% transparent about everything that happened — warts and all — and are still working around the clock with the IDP to help clarify any issues and get the final vote totals out.

There is no way to sugarcoat what happened in Iowa, and ACRONYM will never try. That said, in order to change the game, we must take risks and I will not let this mistake define us or undermine the important work that ACRONYM is doing. Rather, my team and I need to learn from what happened in Iowa, so we can be better stronger, smarter and better as a result. My mission for the next 271 days is to do everything within my power to make absolutely certain Donald Trump is voted out of office.

All of us at ACRONYM and PACRONYM joined the team because we believe in the mission. We do this work because we understand the stakes of this moment, and believe that this is the most important work we all can and must be doing if we want to build real and lasting progress in this country. We are proud to count among our ranks supporters for nearly every Democratic candidate, as well as former employees who are working for nearly all the leading Democratic campaigns. This diversity of viewpoint is something I’m incredibly proud of, it’s what makes us that much stronger and better prepared to take on the fight at hand, together. ACRONYM and PACRONYM will continue to stay neutral in the primary so that we can better focus on the common threat before us. But make no mistake, we will rally around and support whomever is the eventual Democratic nominee.

This is a pivotal moment for our country and our democracy, and we don’t have another day to waste while Donald Trump benefits from this incident, or worse, our inaction. I am humbled and proud to get to this work alongside such an incredible and talented group of people and I am grateful to every person brave enough to join us in the arena.

Let’s make it count.

    Tara McGowan

    Written by

    founder + ceo of ACRONYM, a non-profit committed to building power + digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.

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