Startup Linked to Trump Election Denies Working for Brexit Group

(Bloomberg) -- The CEO of the big-data firm that helped President Donald Trump’s election denied working with the Leave.EU campaign, one of the largest groups behind the U.K. referendum to exit the European Union.

The comments contradicted previously published statements attributed to Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, fellow employees, and members the Leave.EU campaign linking the company to the anti-EU effort.

Startup Linked to Trump Election Denies Working for Brexit Group

Nix told lawmakers Tuesday that the company never did any work, "paid or unpaid," for Leave.EU, and that "we were not involved in the referendum."

U.K. lawmakers are investigating misinformation spread on social media, including its potential influence on the Brexit vote. Cambridge Analytica uses data to reach voters with hyper-targeting messaging, including on Facebook and other online platforms. The company was hired to help with voter outreach by the Trump campaign, whose campaign manager Steve Bannon had been on the company’s board.

In an article written under Nix’s name in 2016, he claimed the company was working for the Brexit campaign. The founders of Leave.EU also said the company was involved.

Nix said Cambridge Analytica had preliminary discussions with Leave.EU, but ultimately didn’t finalize a deal. The article under his name had been written in anticipation of working with Leave.EU and was published in error. It’s still available online.

Nix also played down the extent of the relationship with Leave.EU in an early-2017 interview with Bloomberg.

“We did undertake some work with Leave.EU, but it’s been significantly over-reported,” he said.

Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave.EU, said a few weeks later that the campaign used SCL Group Ltd -- a London-based affiliate -- “to target supporters and the way we used our database, Facebook, Twitter, and website users.”

Twitter Posts

As the hearing was underway in the House of Commons, leaders of Leave.EU took to Twitter -- one of the platforms under scrutiny from U.K. lawmakers -- to contradict Nix’s comments.

Arron Banks, who helped finance the Brexit group and wrote a book about the vote, said Cambridge Analytica did work on the campaign and that Leave.EU submitted documents about the work to the U.K. election regulators.

In 2015, Brittany Kaiser, an employee for the company, spoke about using the company’s technology to target swing voters ahead of the 2016 vote. “If you hit a young person with a message about border security, they might never open your email again," Kaiser told Bloomberg at the time. "But if you tell them a person from Spain may come and take their job, that might get them.” 

Nix said Kaiser had been exploring the deal and was speaking speculatively.

Lawmakers expressed skepticism about Nix’s explanations. "There are several pieces of contradictory evidence," said Christian Matheson, a member of the committee.

The involvement of Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit campaign may become clearer after the U.K. lawmakers and the British election commission release reports concluding their investigations.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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