Updated at 8:30 a.m. with Cruz aide comment.
WASHINGTON — Under fire for his connections to a voter-targeting firm that used data taken from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz insisted Tuesday that he was unaware of any impropriety.
The Cruz presidential campaign touted its collaboration with Cambridge Analytica as a sign of a cutting edge run for the White House, allowing the Texan to carefully identify likely supporters. The firm shifted allegiance to Donald Trump once the Texan dropped out of the GOP primaries.
Both campaigns pumped millions into the company, controlled by billionaire Robert Mercer — a key patron first of Cruz and then Trump in 2016.
Cruz continued work with Cambridge Analytica for six months after allegations surfaced in December 2015 that the firm was using Facebook data it had received illicitly. Recent revelations show the data harvesting was far more extensive than previously suspected, and possibly among the biggest privacy breaches in history.
“They assured us the claims made in the press were false,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Tuesday.
She said the campaign’s contract with the firm included explicit assurances “that all data used by them were obtained legally, that they would conduct their operations ‘in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations,’ and that they ‘hold all necessary permits, licenses and consents to conduct its operations.’ The campaign relied upon those representations.”
And she said, Cambridge Analytica reiterated those assurances after the reports in late 2015. Critics of the firm, including whistleblower Christopher Wylie, a data scientist who worked for Cambridge Analytica, have long questioned the firm’s methods.
“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with the psychology of an entire country … in the context of the democratic process,” Wylie told The Guardian. “It is a full service propaganda machine.”
The firm’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, called such allegations “entirely unfounded and extremely unfair,” telling the BBC that he views the attacks as backlash stemming from its work with Trump.
Texas Democrats blasted Cruz on Monday for benefiting from a “massive invasion of privacy” and demanded that Cruz explain when he knew the company had engaged in “deceitful activity.”
“Ted Cruz will stop at nothing to weasel his way into power, even if it means weaponizing stolen information to manipulate people to like him,” Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Manny Garcia said in a news release. “Cruz’s campaign exploited personal information to create psychological profiles on millions of Americans. All to keep lining the pockets of Cruz’s billionaire super PAC donors — like Robert Mercer, who funded this propaganda machine.”
Frazier declined a request for comment Monday. On Tuesday, she said in a written statement: “The campaign hired Cambridge Analytica as a vendor to assist with data analysis and online advertising. The campaign’s data analysis program followed and built upon the successful data-modeling and micro-targeting approach pioneered by the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.”
Cruz faces a Senate challenge in the fall from Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat. Federal campaign records show no sign of Cruz campaign ties with Cambridge Analytica since mid-2016.
Questions about the firm
A New York Times report published Saturday reopened questions about the firm and its methods, and the links between the Mercers, Trump and erstwhile Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
In July 2015, Rick Tyler, then a spokesman for Cruz, said the campaign used the data to identify potential voters by six personality types. He hailed the Cambridge data as “better…