BlueLink (software)

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FormerlyShadow Inc.
FoundedDecember 2016
  • Gerard Niemira[1]
  • Krista Davis
Key people
  • Irene Tollinger (CEO)
  • James Hickey (COO)
  • Krista Davis (CTO and Chief Architect)
ParentCivitech PBC

BlueLink is a suite of campaign management mobile apps designed to register, organize, and mobilize liberal voters. The suite was formerly known as Shadow, operated by Shadow Inc., before the latter sold it to Acronym, who in turn sold BlueLink to Civitech PBC. The company gained attention after their IowaReporterApp software failed during the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.


Former logo of Shadow Inc.
Former logo of Shadow Inc.

The company, originally named Groundbase, was launched in December 2016 by Gerard Niemira,[2] and Krista Davis, who both worked on the digital outreach team for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.[3][4]

In January 2019, the company was acquired by Acronym, a liberal-leaning political nonprofit organization[1] for which Niemira was also the COO and CTO.[3][5] Shadow is a for-profit company.[6] Acronym's CEO, Tara McGowan, described Shadow as "a political technology company".[1]

Shadow Inc. was then incorporated in Colorado[7][non-primary source needed] in September 2019.[8] Acronym CEO McGowan said in late January 2020 that Acronym is the sole investor in Shadow.[9]

In May 2020, Shadow Inc. was renamed to Bluelink.[10]


The company is registered in Colorado, lists its Denver office as its location, and says it has further offices in New York and Seattle.[11] Shadow and its parent company Acronym shared addresses in Denver, Colorado, and Washington, DC.[1][12]


In May 2019, Gerard Niemira, CEO and CTO of Acronym, became the CEO of Shadow when it was renamed upon the purchase of the "nearly bankrupt company" Groundbase by Acronym.[13][14] Niemira was formerly a product manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, worked at, and worked as an intern for Representative Eliot Engel in 2005.[1][15]

James "Jimmy" Hickey, COO, was an engineering manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and previously was part of Sprinklr and Bloomberg Philanthropies.[14]

Krista Davis, CTO and Chief Architect, was previously a software engineer for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. She also worked at Google for eight years.[16][15] The current CEO is Irene Tollinger, following Niemira stepping down from his position.[10]


Shadow Inc. developed software for the campaigns of numerous Democratic candidates as well as mobile software applications for the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses and 2020 Nevada Democratic caucuses.[3]


Lightrail moves information between different data sources for campaign messaging and data integration purposes.[1] It is the company's flagship product.[17] Acronym announced in November 2019 that Lightrail has been made available to all state parties and national candidates, under a trial contract with the Democratic National Committee. Party insiders have described it as "common in Democratic politics."[1]


The Iowa Democratic Party paid Shadow Inc. $63,183 to develop the IowaReporterApp.[18] Before the 2020 Iowa caucus, the app and its developer were kept secret from the public by the Democratic Party, although it was made public that there would be an app used for the caucus.[19][8] The company published a new build (Version 1.1) of the IowaReporterApp two days before the caucuses.[20] A bug in the code of the app[21] caused the app to fail at the time of the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.[22] Gerardo Niemira, the CEO of Shadow Inc., which created the app, stated that technology used by Democrats in prior elections was a "shitshow" and "tangled morass".[23]

Shadow came under scrutiny for its lack of maturity and the means it used to distribute the IowaReporterApp to users. Shadow required iOS device users to use Apple's behind-the-scenes beta-testing infrastructure, TestFlight, while Android users had to use third-party app TestFairy to download the app. Furthermore, a reporter from Motherboard downloaded the app to two Android devices, but it only opened on one of them.[24] The next day, the site published an APK of the app.[25] It also solicited the opinions of various cybersecurity experts. Dan Guido, the head of Trail of Bits, described the app as "hastily thrown together."[26]

Not-for-profit ProPublica commissioned a security audit of the app. It was determined to be "insecure," so an external entity could have hacked it.[27][28]

The app was reviewed by the Democratic National Committee in advance. David Bergstein said on behalf of the DNC that it was confident that security was being taken "extremely seriously."[29]

Several security and app experts have criticized the amateurish nature of the app.[30] App-development expert, Kasra Rahjerdi, said, "the app was clearly done by someone following a tutorial. It’s similar to projects I do with my mentees who are learning how to code." A team of researchers at Stanford University, including former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, said that while analyzing the app, they found potentially concerning code within it, including hard-coded API keys.[31] The app was written in React Native, authenticated through Auth0, and sent data to Google Cloud Functions.[32]

Nevada caucus app[edit]

The Nevada Democratic Party paid Shadow $58,000 for its caucus reporting app,[1] though it announced it would no longer use it,[33] and instead used Google Forms on iPads.[34]

Campaign and corporate affiliations[edit]

Shadow Inc. developed software for the campaigns of numerous Democratic candidates.[3][35] The Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Kirsten Gillibrand presidential campaigns all made payments to the company.[3][5] The Buttigieg campaign paid $42,500 to the company in July 2019 for "software rights and subscriptions" for a text-message service.[3] The Biden campaign paid the company $1,225, also for a text-messaging service,[36] while the Gillibrand campaign paid $37,400 to the company for software and fundraising consulting.[37]

The Texas and Wisconsin state Democratic parties also contracted Shadow Inc. for undisclosed services.[37] Shadow Inc. has worked closely with Democratic Party-affiliated companies, including Lockwood Strategy and FWIW Media.[35][36]

Shadow Inc's parent company Acronym has received large donations from hedge fund managers Seth Klarman and Donald Sussman, venture capitalist Michael Moritz, as well as film directors and producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg.[4][35]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Glazer, Emily; Seetharaman, Deepa; Corse, Alexa (February 6, 2020). "The Shoestring App Developer Behind the Iowa Caucus Debacle". WSJ. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  2. ^ Farrell, Paul (February 4, 2020). "Gerard Niemira, Shadow CEO: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bercovici, Jeff (February 4, 2020). "Tech firm started by Clinton campaign veterans is linked to Iowa caucus reporting debacle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Bradshaw, Tim (February 4, 2020). "Chaos in Iowa shines spotlight on progressive tech start-up Shadow". Financial Times. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Ye Hee Lee, Michelle (February 4, 2020). "Shadow Inc., which built the Iowa caucus app, received money from Buttigieg and Biden campaigns". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  6. ^ Sara Fischer (July 9, 2019). "Progressive non-profit ACRONYM to invest $1M in local media effort". Axios. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  7. ^ "Statement of Foreign Entity Authority". Colorado Secretary of State.
  8. ^ a b Madrigal, Alexis C. (February 4, 2020). "The Company That Botched the Iowa Caucus Was Formed Only Months Ago". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  9. ^ Marantz, Andrew (February 6, 2020). "Inside Acronym, the Tech Consultancy Behind the Disastrous Iowa-Caucus App". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Theodore Schleifer (July 14, 2020). "The Democratic Party's most hated startup can't change what happened in Iowa. But it can change its name". Vox. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Marc Sallinger (February 5, 2020). "Tech company that works in Denver tied to Iowa caucus debacle". KUSA (TV) - 9 News NBC. Archived from the original on February 6, 2020. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  12. ^ Lee Fang (February 4, 2020). "New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment". Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  13. ^ Rosenberg, Matthew; Corasaniti, Nick; Frenkel, Sheera; Perlroth, Nicole (February 4, 2020). "Faulty Iowa App Was Part of Push to Restore Democrats' Digital Edge". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Karlis, Nicole (February 5, 2020). "Meet the people behind Shadow Inc., the tech company that botched the Iowa caucus". Salon. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Jeff Bercovici; Suhana Hussain (February 4, 2020). "App made by Clinton campaign veterans' firm is behind Iowa caucuses debacle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  16. ^ Michael Bieseker; Brian Slodysko (February 4, 2020). "Maker of glitchy Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties". Star Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  17. ^ Gallagher, Sean (February 4, 2020). ""Robust," "scalable" not words that apply to Iowa Dem Caucus app [Updated]". Ars Technica. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Matthew (February 4, 2020). "Faulty Iowa App Was Part of Push to Restore Democrats' Digital Edge". New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  19. ^ Kate Payne, Miles Parks (January 14, 2020). "Despite Election Security Fears, Iowa Caucuses Will Use New Smartphone App". Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  20. ^ Jason Koebler; Emanuel Maiberg (February 4, 2020). "Here's the Shadow Inc. App That Failed in Iowa Last Night". Vice. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  21. ^ Joshua Green, Eric Newcomer (February 5, 2020). "'We Feel Really Terrible' Says CEO Whose App Roiled Iowa Caucus". Bloomberg.
  22. ^ Melissa Quinn (February 4, 2020). "Company behind troubled app used in Iowa caucuses breaks silence". CBS News. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  23. ^ Pietsch, Bryan (February 5, 2020). "The CEO of the failed Iowa-caucus voting app complained that campaign tech was a 's---show' a year ago". Business Insider. Archived from the original on February 5, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  24. ^ Statt, Nick (February 4, 2020). "The app that broke the Iowa Caucuses was sent out through beta testing platforms". The Verge. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  25. ^ Nick Statt (February 5, 2020). "Motherboard just published the terrible app that caused chaos at the Iowa caucuses". The Verge. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  26. ^ Jason Koebler; Joseph Cox; Emanuel Maiberg (February 5, 2020). "An 'Off-the-Shelf, Skeleton Project': Experts Analyze the App That Broke Iowa". Motherboard. Retrieved September 14, 2020.
  27. ^ Jack Gilum; Jessica Husman (February 5, 2020). "The Iowa Caucuses App Had Another Problem: It Could Have Been Hacked". ProPublica. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  28. ^ Aila Slisco (February 5, 2020). "Iowa Caucus App Has Security Flaws, Hackers Could Change Passwords, Vote Tallies: Report". Newsweek. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  29. ^ Popken, Ben (January 24, 2020). "Iowa caucus app sparks election security concerns". NBC News.
  30. ^ Jack Morse (February 4, 2020). "Turns out that busted Iowa Caucuses app was also extremely hackable". Mashable. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  31. ^ Jason Koebler; Joseph Cox; Emanuel Maiberg (February 5, 2020). "An 'Off-the-Shelf, Skeleton Project': Experts Analyze the App That Broke Iowa". Motherboard. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  32. ^ "How I'd Load Test the Iowa Caucus App - The New Stack". The New Stack. February 11, 2020. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  33. ^ Matishak, Martin (February 4, 2020). "Nevada Democrats won't use same app that caused Iowa havoc". Politico. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  34. ^ Steven Musil (February 13, 2020). "Nevada Democrats to use iPads loaded with Google Forms to track caucus". CNET. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  35. ^ a b c Fang, Lee (February 4, 2020). "New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment". The Intercept. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  36. ^ a b Lachlan Markay; Sam Stein (February 4, 2020). "Investors Rush to Scrub Ties to Firm Behind Iowa Clusterf*ck". The Daily Beast. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  37. ^ a b Nover, Scott (February 4, 2020). "Here's What We Know About the Political Tech Company Behind the Iowa Caucus Snafu". Adweek. Retrieved February 4, 2020.

External links[edit]