By Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A data mining firm that’s under fire over its work for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was hired previously by North Carolina Republicans - and that’s gotten the attention of state Democrats who are questioning what state GOP clients knew about the information the company collected.

Cambridge Analytica was paid by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ campaign in 2014, as well as Rep. Patrick McHenry’s campaign and the state Republican Party that same year, according to federal campaign finance records. Cambridge received $195,000 combined from the party and the two campaigns in 2014, the online records show, with $150,000 coming from the state party.

Published reports allege Cambridge improperly obtained information from 50 million Facebook users to try to influence elections. Cambridge and Trump’s campaign deny wrongdoing.

State Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin told reporters Tuesday that Tillis and other state Republicans have much to answer for about the work Cambridge performed for them.

“Before there ever was a Trump campaign, it was North Carolina Republicans who helped line the pockets of this shady firm - and allowed it to steal and weaponize personal information to manipulate voters,” Goodwin said at a news conference.

Tillis said in a statement that Cambridge provided “limited services” during his winning 2014 campaign over Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan but hadn’t performed campaign work for more than three years. Tillis’ campaign paid Cambridge $30,000 in 2014.

“My expectation is that all services provided to my campaign are lawful - regardless of who provides them, including third parties,” Tillis said. “If we were misled by a vendor, that would be deeply disturbing.”

Cambridge’s website paints a more robust picture of activities to help Tillis. There the company said it used its “unique data-rich voter file” to build high-tech profiles for all North Carolina voters, and to determine national security was the top issue for the campaign’s target voters. Cambridge wrote that its voter-contact program helped increase turnout by the equivalent of over 15,000 voters. Tillis defeated Hagan by less than 46,000 votes.

Dallas Woodhouse, the state GOP’s executive director, said this week that Cambridge was among several direct mail program contractors hired in 2014 and that it did not perform social media work. He said the company hasn’t been used in years and there are no plans to use it in the future.

In a news release Tuesday responding to Goodwin’s news conference, Woodhouse said “it’s astonishing but not surprising that the Democrat Party is spouting off outrageous conspiracy theories.”

A phone message left with McHenry’s campaign, which reported paying Cambridge $15,000 in 2014, wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

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