Karl Rove & GOP Use Crowdsourcing to Hit Obama Administration

Not so surprising: A major Republican advocacy group founded by Karl Rove to finance conservative issues and political campaigns is launching a new assault on the Obama administration. Surprising: the page they are taking out of the social media playbook to do so.

Not so surprising: A major Republican advocacy group founded by Karl Rove to finance conservative issues and political campaigns is launching a new assault on the Obama administration. Surprising: the page they are taking out of the social media playbook to do so.

Crossroads GPS, the GOP political and grassroots arm founded by Rove, on Wednesday introduced a Web site with the navigation, look and feel of Wikipedia to use crowd-sourcing to highlight what the group says is a failure by the president to be as open and transparent as promised.

The database at Wikicountability.org allows registered users to upload and search information obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, just as they would at Wikipedia or Wikileaks.

The site is meant to “facilitate efficient sharing of public information about the Obama Administration” and “designed to crowd-source information gleaned from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other public documents by organizations, individuals and journalists,” said its architects.

While the site is intended to highlight the administration’s poor record of compliance with FOIA, for social media followers, it also presents an interesting test of crowd-sourcing in politics.

The term “crowd-sourcing” was first coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” that explained how Web 2.0 technologies were creating networks that allowed companies and organizations to marshal and utilize the talent of the public.

From there, it grew as a popular web 2.0 buzzword as social media and social networks grew along with it.

Wikipedia is, of course, one of the best-known examples of the crowd-sourcing, or “wisdom of crowds,” concept in action: a “free, Web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project,” as described by its host, the nonprofit Wikipedia Foundation. Millions of users have logged in to create, edit and read the more than 13 million articles and content in Wikipedia’s 250 language versions since it was created 10 years ago.

A more recent, and much more controversial, example would be WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website founded by Australian journalist Julian Assange in 2006 to expose secret information about governments and corporations. The site quickly became the focus of global debate, and anger, last year after it released thousands of confidential messages about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While WikiLeaks certainly affected the diplomatic and political scenes, crowd-sourcing as a tool has been tried more in business, news and entertainment than election-year politics.

Just a few days into the new Wikicountability.org venture, it does not appear the typical pitfalls of crowd-sourcing – lack of money, too few participants, lower quality of work, lack of personal interest – would be a problem.

At the same time the new site was unveiled, Crossroads GPS also announced that it is suing the Obama administration for “repeated failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act by providing information about the [Health and Human Services] department’s granting of waivers from the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Act, also known as Obamacare.”

The wiki has also already acquired thousands of pages of information revealing expenses incurred by the administration in promoting its health care overhaul, dozens of meetings between Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and union leaders, and the pay and travel expenses incurred by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Chief Elizabeth Warren, as well as more than a half dozen outstanding FOIA requests from as far back as August 2010, according to reports.

And Crossroads GPS has said it, along with its sister organization American Crossroads, is planning to spend $120 million on the 2012 election to defeat President Obama and other Democratic candidates.

If anything, it could be that money, and the openness, trust and transparency inherently needed in crowd-sourcing, that befalls the effort.

Democratic officials, election watchdogs and many news outlets quickly pointed out it’s worth noting that Crossroads itself refuses to disclose its own donors, reported to be primarily “Wall Street hedge fund moguls and other wealthy donors.”