The fate of the presidency may depend on who raises more money in the campaign, whose cost for the first time is approaching $2 billion. That figure includes hundreds of millions of dollars spent by super political action committees that accept unlimited and in some cases effectively anonymous contributions from millionaires, companies, labor groups and others to pay for television campaign advertisements across the nation.
Buxton confirmed that the data-mining project began with the help of Dick Boyce, Romney's former Bain & Co. colleague, after Romney joined fundraising forces with the Republican National Committee. Buxton expressed such confidence in his business and analysis methods that, in nearly two decades of running his firm, he told AP he has always been able to answer essential questions for customers.
"I can look at data of any kind and say, 'I want to know who that $100 donor could be,'" Buxton said. "We look at data of any kind."
Obama's campaign employs its own form of data analysis to lure potential supporters, via Facebook and Twitter, to fine-tune messages for supporters and potential donors. The Obama campaign declined to comment on its internal fundraising practices, although Buxton said it doesn't work with Obama's campaign.
Romney's campaign has also been secretive about how it raises its money, and most fundraising events have been closed to the press. Unlike Obama, Romney's campaign has declined to publicly identify the names of major fundraisers, known as bundlers, who have helped amass much of its money. Details of this project have not been made public until now.
Buxton is not listed as a vendor in any of the campaign's finance reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission, although some campaigns do not report expenses until the vendor sends them a bill.
When AP initially asked Buxton about its work for Romney, it declined to acknowledge that it helped raise money for the RNC, even as its own website displayed a prominent log-in page for "2012 presidential donor prospecting." That web address contained the letters "RNC" — a common abbreviation for the Republican National Committee. After the AP's continued questioning, the company replaced the "RNC" letters in the web address with a generic "campaign" the next day.
This is not Buxton's first foray into politics: In 2006, the company produced 1,000 names for a Connecticut campaign to meet a write-in ballot requirement, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram then reported, and 900 of them signed up.
Few in Washington campaign circles recognized the work of Buxton, although it lists thousands of other clients in the public and private sector, including hospitals and local governments.
Associated Press news researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.
Contact the Washington investigative team at DCInvestigations(at)ap.org.
Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jackgillum
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