Has Buxton Co. made illegal in-kind contibutions to Romney campaign?

In an AP analysis of datamining, Jack Gillum writes (emphasis added):

The head of Buxton Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, chief executive Tom Buxton, confirmed to the AP his company’s efforts, which help Romney identify potentially wealthy and previously untapped Republican donors across the country. The Romney campaign declined to discuss on the record its work with Buxton or the project’s overall success.

There are no records of payments to Buxton from Romney’s campaign, the Republican National Committee or a joint fundraising committee. Under federal law, companies cannot use corporate treasury funds or resources, such as proprietary data analysis, for in-kind contributions to federal campaigns.

Gillum focuses on datamining techniques commonly used by retailers. His reporting (indirectly) reminds the reader of Robert Redford’s 1972 movie The Candidate, which treats politicians like toothpaste. From The Verge:

[A]n early data analysis identified thousands of people (from a sample of about two million California houesholds) who would be “comfortably able and inclined” to donate at least $2,500 in support of Romney. The legally-obtained data likely includes information given away by individuals when signing up for services or using products — the details of which are usually buried under lengthy Customer Agreements and Terms of Service.

The data focus means Gillum misses a more important story, in my opinion. That story is not money in politics but the widening circle of indirect support that should be better regulated — or at least more honestly reported.

The Buxton case raises questions of transparency and good ole boy handshake deals:

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.

Think about this for a moment.

When was the last time that you engaged professional services (eg tax or financial advice) and had the firm delay its bill … 3-5-6 months?

Right.

Advice like that offered to the Romney campaign does not come cheap. Romney seems to have had access to it through hs Bain Capitol associates. If there is a bill coming, will it be at market rates and include interest charges for deferred billing?

Then there is transparency.

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.

If your business has a contract with any political candidate or organization, you don’t get to dissemble.

Especially when your firm is no neophyte:

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.

Republicans do not have a monopoly on croynism. It seems business as usual inside the Beltway.

But that does not make it right. Nor should we quietly condone it.

This example raises other questions.

When a prominant entertainer picks up his or her magaphone for a candidate, where is the line that is “free speech” (metaphorically and actually) and the one that is “campaign contribution”?

Ditto when a singer produces a YouTube video.

If a celebrity who normally commands thousands (or millions) for a product endorsement appears in a campaign commercial “for free” should that be considered a contribution?

And that prohibition on coordination between campaigns and Super PACs? Practically non-existent according to news reports as well as The Colbert Report.

People and organizations would not be spending millions (billions?) on political campaigns if the ROI was not sizeable.

Does this mean that our current system for electing public representatives is corrupt? Yep. And we do not seem to care.

P.S. If you believe the Democrats aren’t also employing deep datamining, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you …