Acronym (political organization)

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FormationMarch 1, 2017; 2 years ago (2017-03-01)[1]
  • Tara McGowan[2]
  • Michael Dubin[a]
TypeNonprofit[1] political advocacy group
Legal status501(c)(4)[1]
Purpose"We build power + modern infrastructure for a new progressive movement."[5]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.[4][1]
President and CEO
Tara McGowan[4]
Michael Dubin[4][1]
Hannah Linkenhoker[4]
Revenue (2017)
Expenses (2017)$1,297,124[4]

Acronym (styled ACRONYM) is a Washington, D.C.-based American 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation, co-founded by Tara McGowan and Michael Dubin in 2017. The organization is one of the major coordinators and producers of digital media campaigns aligned with the Democratic Party, and has been hired by or has provided support to various other organizations including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emily's List, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Planned Parenthood. It is the owner of Shadow, Inc., a technology company that made the mobile application software that malfunctioned during vote tallying at the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Digital media[edit]

McGowan and Dubin co-founded Acronym in 2017[3][6] with the stated intention of "advancing progressive causes through innovative communications, advertising, and organizing programs".[7] Since then, Acronym has made significant investments in digital media campaigns that aim to register voters. Within just over a year of its founding, Acronym had raised tens of millions of dollars for digital advertising campaigns, running more than 100 ad campaigns and registering 60,000 voters.[8]

In 2019, Acronym launched the Courier Newsroom.[9]


Acronym's affiliated organizations and PAC donors include high-profile donors like the director Steven Spielberg and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.[b] Acronym's PAC, PACRONYM, has further received "eight-figure checks" from financiers Seth Klarman and Donald Sussman, and venture capitalist Michael Moritz.[10][11][12]

Because of the substantial volume of money that it has raised, and because of its status as a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit organization that is not required to disclose the donations it receives, Acronym has been widely described as a dark money group.[13][14] Acronym has received criticism for the lack of transparency in its funding structure,[8][14] although McGowan and others have defended the 501(c)(4) funding structure as a useful innovation for progressive advertising groups to adopt.[8][15]

Relationships with other organizations[edit]

In 2019, the Iowa Democratic Party paid $63,000 to Shadow, Inc., a for-profit software company acquired by Acronym, to create a mobile application to tally results from the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.[16][17] Shadow, Inc. was created[18][16] in 2019 by Acronym when they acquired the technology firm Groundbase from Gerard Niemira, who was then made CEO of Shadow, Inc.[19] Niemira had also previously served as chief operating officer and chief technology officer of Acronym prior to being CEO of Shadow, Inc.[6][20]

In the wake of Acronym's involvement in the 2020 Iowa Caucuses' vote tallying problems, McGowan downplayed Acronym's connection to the app Shadow that was responsible for delays and inconsistencies in reporting election results. A report in The Intercept, however, found that "internal company documents, a source close to the firms, and public records show a close and intertwined relationship between Acronym and Shadow."[19]

In addition to Shadow, Inc., Acronym owns several for-profit corporations: Lockwood Strategy, FWIW Media, and Rogue Swag.[8] Lockwood Strategy is a digital strategy firm.[21] Courier Newsroom, which describes itself as a "progressive media company", is owned by Acronym.[22] Courier Newsroom acts as a parent company for local news websites.[22][23]

In November 2019, Acronym founder Tara McGowan announced that Acronym and its affiliated Super PAC, called Pacronym (and styled PACRONYM), would undertake a $75 million online advertising campaign targeting four potential swing states in the 2020 United States presidential election.[24][25] Pacronym received $2,407,208 in 2018 and spent $1,000,000 (43%) the same year in payments to Lockwood Strategy, also owned by Acronym.[26] Since the campaign of incumbent president Donald Trump was reported to have a significant advantage in digital advertising during the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, this large expenditure by a Democratic-aligned organisation was considered by many political strategists and media commentators to be a crucial safeguard for the Democratic Party against the risk of being outspent in digital advertising before their presidential nominee could be chosen.[24][27] Nick Fouriezos of Ozy magazine identified Acronym, and McGowan's efforts in particular, as "one of the major forces shaping the Democrats' general-election fight against Donald Trump".[8]

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emily's List, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Planned Parenthood have hired Acronym for digital organizing services.[8]

David Plouffe, who was campaign manager for former president Barack Obama, serves on the board of directors of Acronym.[6][28]


Acronym publishes a weekly newsletter called FWIW,[29] as well as an accompanying podcast called the FWIW Podcast, which is published by Courier Newsroom.[30] Hosted by McGowan, the FWIW Podcast is a biweekly podcast about the digital race for the White House. Past guests have included David Plouffe, Jeff Zeleny, and DNC CTO Nell Thomas.[30][31]


  1. ^ "ACRONYM, "a new, digital-first political organization" co-founded by Michael Dubin, the Dollar Shave Club CEO"[3]
  2. ^ Acronym’s affiliated PAC and web of other organizations are funded with millions from high-profile Democrats including director Steven Spielberg and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "ACRONYM". Influence Watch. 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Corse, Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Alexa (February 5, 2020). "The Shoestring App Developer Behind the Iowa Caucus Debacle". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved February 5, 2020. Acronym and its founder Tara McGowan
  3. ^ a b McCammond, Alexi (October 26, 2017). "Digital-first startup launches to elect progressive Dems". Axios. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Form 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax" (PDF). Influence Watch. July 2019. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  5. ^ "ACRONYM homepage". Acronym. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c "Maker of Glitchy Iowa Caucus App Has Democratic Party Ties". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 4, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  7. ^ "About ACRONYM". Acronym. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Fouriezos, Nick (September 5, 2019). "Meet the Democrats' most dangerous digital strategist". Ozy. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  9. ^ Emily Stewart (February 6, 2020). "Acronym, the dark money group behind the Iowa caucuses app meltdown, explained". MSN. Retrieved February 7, 2020. the Courier Newsroom, a for-profit media company under Acronym's umbrella that runs multiple local sites that deliver left-slanted news
  10. ^ "New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment". February 4, 2020.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Soo Rin Kim (February 4, 2020). "What to know about Shadow Inc., the vendor behind Iowa Democrats' caucus app". ABC. Retrieved February 6, 2020. under the leadership of McGowan, who was also previously the director of strategy with Priorities USA, one of the largest Democratic-aligned outside groups, PACRONYM raised more than $7 million, receiving a series of eight-figure checks from wealthy supporters including financier Seth Klarman and Donald Sussman
  13. ^ Markay, Lachlan (November 22, 2019). "How a Dem Dark-Money Group Is Invading the News". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 24, 2019. (subscription required)
  14. ^ a b Cawthorne, Cameron (October 10, 2019). "Liberal Dark Money Group Launches $1 Million Impeachment Ad Campaign". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  15. ^ Warzel, Charlie (November 1, 2019). "Can Democrats Compete With Trump's Twitter Feed?". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  16. ^ a b McGowan, Tara [@taraemcg] (February 3, 2020). "I'm so excited to announce @anotheracronym has acquired Groundbase, the best CRM + SMS tool on the political market, along with their incredible team led by @gjniemira + are launching Shadow, a new tech company to build smarter infrastructure for campaigns" (Tweet). Retrieved February 3, 2020 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ Robillard, Kevin (February 3, 2020). "This Is The Buzzy Democratic Firm That Botched The Iowa Caucuses". Huffington Post. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  18. ^ "Shadow". Archived from the original on September 21, 2019.
  19. ^ a b Fang, Lee (February 4, 2020). "New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment". The Intercept. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  20. ^ Sara Fischer (July 9, 2019). "Progressive non-profit ACRONYM to invest $1M in local media effort". Axios. Retrieved February 7, 2020. ACRONYM has invested in other for-profit companies, like Shadow Inc., a political technology company based in Denver
  21. ^ "Acronym, the dark money group behind the Iowa caucuses app meltdown, explained". Vox. Retrieved February 7, 2020. Lockwood Strategy, a digital strategy firm that McGowan runs
  22. ^ a b "About Us". COURIER. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  23. ^ Guaglione, Sarah. "Nonprofit Acronym Invests Over $1 million In 'The Dogwood' Site, Shores Up Local News". Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Goldmacher, Shane (November 4, 2019). "Democratic Strategists Set Up $75 Million Digital Campaign to Counter Trump". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  25. ^ "One Year from Election Day 2020, Progressive Group Launches Massive Effort to Combat Trump Online". Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  26. ^ "Pacronym: Expenditures, 2018 cycle". Open Secrets.
  27. ^ Ye Hee Lee, Michelle (November 19, 2019). "Democrats, anxious over Trump's money advantage, launch swing-state spending efforts". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  28. ^ "HuffPost is now part of Verizon Media".
  29. ^ "FWIW Newsletter". Acronym. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  30. ^ a b "FWIW Podcast". FWIW Podcast. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  31. ^ Uberti, David (November 23, 2019). "The 'MVP' of Trump's 2016 Facebook Campaign Just Joined a Liberal Group Trying to Take Him Down". Vice. Retrieved November 29, 2019.