Tampa Bay Times by Steve Contorno
February 18, 2020
A curious request arrived in the inboxes of Florida tax collectors last week from an employee of the Republican National Committee.
He asked for “all email addresses that have been collected and are in the possession of the Tax Collector’s Office.” He also wanted any names, property addresses and phone numbers connected to those emails in their records.
If the tax collectors had complied, the Republican Party would soon have a valuable trove of personal information for millions of Floridians as it gears up for the 2020 election: A detailed database of many taxpayers’ emails plus the name, address and phone number tied to that email.
The unusual nature of the request ultimately persuaded the state association representing all Florida tax collectors to get involved. An attorney for the association, Timothy Qualls, advised members not to comply, citing an exemption in state law specifically for email addresses used to send notices to taxpayers. After speaking with the association, the GOP operative planned to withdraw the request, Qualls told the tax collectors in an email obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
Nevertheless, the episode is a window into the far-reaching and massive data operation that is guiding the effort to reelect President Donald Trump. The Trump campaign and the Republican Party boast that they have thousands of data points on every voter in America, information that they have acquired from local and state governments and consumer reports. It is a $350 million operation that is the backbone of Trump’s $1 billion reelection campaign.
“This is a standard data collection,” Emma Vaughn, the Florida spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said of the GOP’s records requests to Florida tax collectors. “The Democrats should take the free advice on how to build out their data operation.”