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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Brexit - The Dark Money Reality

Recently, Zelo Street attended a gathering of media people where the subject being discussed by the invited speakers was Brexit, and its potential aftermath. Among the questions asked afterwards was one notable intervention from a well-known writer whose name does not need to be disclosed. His pitch was basically “yes, but what about all the Dark Money?” This was a most prescient question, as we are now discovering.
We now know that both “designated” campaigns, Britain Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave, are being investigated for potential spending irregularities, but this is a mere “Look Over There” item - the Dark Money is beyond conventional investigation. But we do know that the Dark Money has been a part of the referendum campaign.

Why we can say that the presence of Dark Money, most probably emanating from the USA, is rather more than the conspiracy theory some would have us believe, is that the tip of this particular iceberg is now in plain sight. Moreover, the bulk of that iceberg is becoming clearer with each new revelation. We start in Northern Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) spent just over £58,000 on its 2015 General Election campaign. But somehow, it managed to spend £425,000 on the referendum. What’s more, most of that money was expended on mainland British campaigning. How so? As the Guardian has reported, the DUP “spent £282,000 on a pro-Brexit advert in a newspaper that is not published in Northern Ireland, according to documents released by the Electoral Commission”. They bought a wrap-round in the Metro freesheet.

So who paid? As the Guardian has also told, “Under a provision in funding rules dating to the Troubles, which allows Northern Irish political parties to accept anonymous contributions, the identity of the donors to the DUP campaign had not been made public”. And despite the later claim “the DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson revealed on Friday that the little-known pro-union Constitutional Research Council (CRC) had donated”, that does not tell us where the money originated. Thus the invasion of the Dark Money.

And it gets worse: also in that paper’s sights is the leave.EU campaign fronted by the likes of Arron Banks and Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, and here the sums potentially dwarf the DUP’s Metro advert. Here’s the intro: “Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British company, SCL Group, which has 25 years’ experience in military disinformation campaigns and ‘election management’, claims to use cutting-edge technology to build intimate psychometric profiles of voters to find and target their emotional triggers. Trump’s team paid the firm more than $6m (£4.8m) to target swing voters”.

Who owns Cambridge Analytica? Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and the connection to the EU referendum? You’ll love this: “the longstanding friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family led Mercer to offer his help - free - to the Brexit campaign”. This is what is referred to as a “benefit in kind.
Following the money - and the money you can't see

So what was the game? “The strategy involved harvesting data from people’s Facebook and other social media profiles and then using machine learning to ‘spread’ through their networks … the campaign used this information, combined with artificial intelligence, to decide who to target with highly individualised advertisements and had built a database of more than a million people, based on advice Cambridge Analytica supplied”.

And how did this pan out? “Two weeks ago Arron Banks, Leave.eu’s founder, stated in a series of tweets that Gerry Gunster (Leave.eu’s pollster) and Cambridge Analytica with ‘world class’ AI had helped them gain ‘unprecedented levels of engagement’. ‘AI won it for Leave,’ he said”. But what was that about benefits in kind?

Well, any benefit in kind worth more than £7,500 must be reported to the Electoral Commission. They have no such item from Mercer, or leave.EU, filed as yet. How much might Cambridge Analytica’s services have been worth? If the Trump campaign shelled out the thick end of £5 million, what leave.EU got is probably going to be well into seven figures. And thus a further, more subtle, invasion of the Dark Money.

On top of all that is the possibility that opinion formers - newspaper pundits, solo and group blogs, and other social media warriors - have been suckling at this particular teat as well. More Dark Money, and more probably untraceable Dark Money, at that.

Who might those beneficiaries be? Well, Mercer has now been revealed as one of the owners of the Breitbart News Network, that convocation of the irredeemably batshit that has turned the proliferation of Fake News into its own particular speciality.

But the money is only one aspect of this invasion: as the description of the Cambridge Analytica methods shows, the potential is also there for wholesale misuse of personal data, an area where the Information Commissioner may want to get involved.

One should not dismiss the Information Commissioner’s powers too readily: this is, after all, the body that brought an end to the (mainly) illegal information gathering operation of Steve Whittamore back in 2006. Another Operation Motorman could well be in the offing.

The elephant in the room is, of course, that the referendum has been held and the damage done. But who drugged the beast and paid the bills are still to be uncovered. More later.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem with investigations like this is that they tend to fizzle out and no more is heard, think of The Panama Papers or the electoral fraud investigations, not to mention Leveson.
This is just another dead end.

Alan Clifford said...

Oh I wouldn't worry about it.

After Brexit, our home grown "creators of wealth" and "entrepreneurs" and their Yank carpet baggers will have even freer rein to loot the economy. Hence all the bullshit about opportoonities (read: scams and ripoffs a la PFI).

Yes, that'll make things better, especially now the tories have ripped £3 billion out of disabled benefits. Hidden away of course during the bye elections.

Is it any wonder the average Brit holds "UK democracy" in well deserved contempt when this kind of moral and actual illegal corruption riddles the system from top to bottom?

But never mind. British "free media" will voice vox populi and report fairly and decently won't it?......Well, won't it?......You know, just as it did for the Hillsborough disaster and every other rotten-to-the-core institutional corruption.

It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic - and so certain to lead to a society killed by inflicted dry rot of the soul.

Nor is it as though there haven't been any warnings from a tiny minority of voices.

But don't worry. Everything's going to be OK as long as everybody does as the far right establishment tells them to. Yes, learn to love Big Brother. He's knocking on your door right now. Or staring at you from your TV screen or "news"paper.

As Newsweek once told its hapless Yank "readers" - THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, GET USED TO IT. Especially when it again gets round to rattling its nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

So this latest manifestation of corruption should come as no surprise. If you think that's bad......wait a minute.

Pompey Fan said...

Alan
You ever thought of getting a cat?

Kris Soni said...

Dark money....read Jane Mayer; Politics in the anglosphere become MORE and MORE toxic because the rich HAVE TO influence politics in the guise of charitable giving which is tax exempt and which very giving in turn enables trusts to avoid inheritance taxes on the mighty lumpsums to be bequethed to their offspring....all enabled by the tax code.

In the process entire swaths of society are poisoned by "strange" right wing white papers and ideas, including: entire universities (at least in the US), think tanks, who in turn coopt federal judges, economists, senators, congressmen, television, blogs, radio shows,....it's eye opening. To boot, the cherry on the top is the incident relayed in the book about CIA using these very same "dark money" family trusts as slush fund conduits for irancontra type God Knows What type of nonsense all with the blessings of America's wealthiest families.

Brexit and Trump represent the iceberg now climbing out of the water and becoming somewhat visible.

Turlough Conway said...

The damage has been done, but real damage may be on the way for the Brexit campaign. With A50 trigerred control is now with the EU and there will be a running commentary on negotiations which wont favour the Brexit team.

There is another potential scenario: The growing thickening and darkening smoke of Trump-Russia. When this breaks (and I am hopeful its a when) then the fallout from this huge explosion will surely hit Brexit.

Was there Russian interference here? Why would Russia target US and Continental Europe but leave Brexit alone?

The US election hack was to do with data. Jared Kushner who oversaw the 'big data' side of things with Jason Miller is being called to teh Senate committee for illegally meeting with a bank CEO when he and his bank were sanctioned.

The FBI focus is more and more on data, servers and Social media to provide tracable evidence.

What has this to do with Brexit?

Cambridge Analytica, SCL, Russian bots. If CA and co. were involved in any way in collusion either by (Mercer/Bannon) or by using hacked data then a massive scandal will hit Brexit.

Those wanting to remain in the EU need to be ready for this chance.

It's all online. Lets start investigating Farage, UKIP, CA etc., Mercers, Putin for any and all connections.

The silence on this is deliberate. There is NO CHANCE that British Intel has nothing on #Brexitrussia

Kris Soni said...

@Turlough:
"Why would Russia target US and Continental Europe but leave Brexit alone?"

my 2 cents: Brexit already coincides with Russia's Divide and Conquer play on Europe. "Interesting Times": Tories and Republicans red meat core interests at the moment are perfectly aligned with Russian self interest.

rob said...

@ Turlough Conway

"It's all online. Lets start investigating Farage, UKIP, CA etc., Mercers, Putin for any and all connections."

You may find that it has started in the US see following Twitter feeds:
Claude Taylor@TrueFactsStated
John Schindler@20committee
and offshoots from there.
Only downside Louise Mensch is also involved possibly because of antipathy to Assange and Wikileaks, who also seem to be involved (Farage connection), and she tend to get a little excited.

And it all started off with the Steele dossier becoming public. Pity the UK government haven't been involved. Or have they? They appear to have been happy to keep the Russian London Laundromat turnover going. The engine of the UK economy?