Sunlight Foundation in the Dark

The Sunlight Foundation’s Luke Rosiak reported on Friday the Republican National Committee spent $1.4 million on the redesign of GOP.com, a figure which totals more than five times what the RNC’s Democratic counterpart spent to host and maintain Democrats.org. Sources familiar with the RNC’s digital makeover, however, contest Sunlight’s report, calling it “ridiculous.”

Rosiak writes:

The biggest disparity seems to be bandwidth costs–the RNC paid Smartech Corp., a Republican-focused hosting firm, more than a million dollars, plus $22,000 to Eloqua, compared to the DNC’s $203,000 to Sprint, Switch and Data and Servint Corp.–despite the fact that the two sites’ traffic, which determines bandwidth usage and, largely, hosting costs, was the same.

But the design of the site itself was costly, too. In the months prior to the October 13 launch of GOP.com, the committee paid $328,000 to 11 firms for Web development.

For an organization that prides itself on investigative research, the Sunlight Foundation is comically inept at reading campaign finance data. “They should learn to read an FEC report,” remarked my source.

The most outrageous of the RNC’s web-related expenditures, Sunlight’s exposé goes, is the $1 million-plus disbursement to Tennessee-based Smartech Corp. for hosting services. Smartech, considered by many a heavyweight in Republican web hosting, began consulting for the RNC in 2000.

“I can tell you from my tenure there that the Smartech bill includes a lot of things that aren’t GOP.com,” said former RNC eCampaign Director Michael Turk. “If you go back and look at that bill over time, I suspect it has always been high, regardless of who was Chair and regardless of whether they were rolling out a new GOP.com.”

The range of services provided by Smartech extends far beyond pricey bandwidth support for the party’s new website. According to party officials, Smartech facilitates internet at the national headquarters, hosts 31 state parties’ websites on the RNC’s platform, and provides broadcast email capabilities to the RNC and over 40 state parties. Additionally, a vast majority of the data aggregated by Voter Vault–the RNC’s voter microtargeting database, which compiles state voter files, information from commercial marketing companies, and census data to predict voters’ partisan tendencies–is hosted by Smartech.

Sunlight correctly notes the DNC’s expenditures for bandwidth services are well below that of the RNC, but what they neglected to report is perhaps more telling: the DNC does not provide website and email hosting to state parties.

RNC officials were not willing to disclose exact figures related to the party’s new digital threads, but offered assurances it was “well in the average for the services rendered.”

To that end, Turk said of the RNC’s web development budget: “subtract the million from the $1.4, and then deduct the $328k for development, and the big ‘shock’ here is that they spent $100,000. As is often the case with Sunlight attacks on the RNC, this one can be summed up with ‘Show’s over, folks. Nothing to see here.’”

Speaking of ‘Sunlight attacks,’ it is worth noting that all are not equal. Transparency and skepticism should be reserved only for some — specifically, Republicans. When reporting on the Obama administration’s fiscally irresponsible $18 million redesign of Recovery.gov, Sunlight officials sought to quell criticism, writing at the time, “you can’t presume that the government isn’t spending its money wisely unless you know both what Government is paying and what they’re paying for. We don’t know what they’re paying for.”

But Sunlight presumed to know exactly what the RNC’s web development expenditures were for, presumably because their targets were, well, Republicans.

Cross-posted at Skepticians.com.

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