Captricity, a data firm contracted to process paperwork for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2015, is outsourcing up to 60 percent of its labor, according to the firm’s head of business development.
Captricity, which was founded by Berkeley computer science PhD candidate Kuang Chen and musician Jeff Lin, was subcontracted by a company called Aurotech to facilitate a $270,571 contract processing campaign finance filings for candidates following the 2014 election, according to the Post.
Software developed by Chen extracts shreds of written text and sends them to an on-demand global workforce employed by “Mechanical Turk.” The workers identify numbers and letters for a computer algorithm that according to Chen, digitizes it with an accuracy rate “asymptotically approaching 100 percent.”
From 1998 through 2014, the FEC had contracted with the Virginia-based ILM Corp. to manually enter the data from filings. “It is like a car vs. a horse and buggy. We’re not even on the same field,” Chen said, comparing his company to ILM.
According to Brian Busch, Captricity’s Head of Business Development, about half of the people finding work through Mechanical Turk are from India, while 40 percent are from North America.
The Post asked Democratic FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel what sort of message was being sent by Captricity’s use of a “global workforce,” but she declined to comment. Ravel previously worked with the Oakland, Calif.-based firm when she served as chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) in 2012, when her agency contracted Captricity to process financial statements submitted by the state’s judges.
Similarly to Ravel, who was appointed to the FEC by President Obama in 2013, Captricity has some ties to the president. Captricity co-founder Jeff Lin contributed a total of $450 to the Obama for America campaign in 2012.
Since then, the company has praised President Obama on its Website, asserting that he has made “accountability through transparency” a priority in his administration. In an entry on its blog, Captricity states that there was “an essential cordoning-off of government data under Bush (George W) and a re-opening of data under Obama.”
However, an analysis conducted by the Associated Press earlier this year presented contradictory information, suggesting the Obama administration had set a new record for denying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and “more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.”
Specifically, the AP found that the Obama administration had “more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests.” It also found that rejections and redactions were found to be “improper under the law,” but only when they were challenged.
I asked Captricity by e-mail to comment on the differing claims. A spokesperson said the company was no longer able to speak to the basis of the blog post, saying, “It’s fairly dated (from 2012) and we’re not in a position to comment on this topic at this point in time.”