Seth Klarman '79, pictured at the Klarman Hall dedication in 2016.

Brittany Chew / Sun File Photo

Seth Klarman '79, pictured at the Klarman Hall dedication in 2016.

February 6, 2020

Billionaire Seth Klarman ’79 Donated to Super PAC Involved in Iowa Caucus Delays

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With the final winner of the Iowa caucus still unconfirmed as of late Wednesday night, investigations into what went wrong have revealed a Cornell connection.

In December, Seth Klarman ’79, the namesake of Klarman Hall, donated $1.5 million to Pacronym — one of the groups tied to an app that many have blamed for the missteps in the Iowa caucus — just over a month ago, according to the Federal Election Commission.

As of Wednesday night with 97 percent of precincts reporting, Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly led the state-equivalent delegate count with 26.2 percent, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) trailed behind at 26.1 percent.

The Iowa caucus has been at the center of controversy regarding the botched implementation of a vote-counting app, which delayed its results by days. While votes were supposed to be finalized by Monday night, a winner was not declared as of Wednesday night — causing many to blame an app the Iowa Democratic Party commissioned to tabulate the results.

The app had not been previously tested on a statewide scale, and on the night of the caucuses, precinct officials confronted a wide variety of issues, including technical glitches, difficulties downloading it and even inability to log in. While officials could instead manually call in results by phone, an overwhelmed hotline led to what most political commentators widely called “unprecedented” disarray. 

The company that developed the fledgling app, Shadow, was

contracted by the Iowa Democratic Party. Shadow, in turn, received investments from Acronym, the nonprofit that mothered super PAC Pacronym. Klarman’s $1.5 million donation to Pacronym is his most recent in a long line of political donations that have included candidates across the aisle.

Super PAC Pacronym, which aims to run a major digital campaign against President Donald Trump, was launched by Acronym. Acronym itself was born in the wake of the 2016 election, founded with the goal of advancing digital advertising for Democrats, especially on Facebook and Google.

Acronym has invested in “several for-profit companies across the progressive media and technology sectors,” including Shadow, the company that developed the app commissioned by the Iowa Democratic Party, the organization’s spokesperson Kyle Tharp wrote in a statement. Tharp added that the company was not directly involved in the Iowa caucus.

“We determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound,” Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price wrote in a statement Tuesday morning. “While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data.”

“We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system,” Price wrote. 

As results started to trickle in, the IDP realized there were inconsistencies in the reports, which prompted party officials to order precinct chairs to enter data in manually, according to Price.

“The underlying data and collection process via Shadow’s mobile caucus app was sound and accurate,” Gerard Niemira, Shadow’s CEO, wrote in a statement on the app’s website. “But our process to transmit that caucus results data generated via the app to the IDP was not.”

Shadow worked to resolve the issue and has since corrected the underlying technology system, according to Niemira, who was also a product director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Klarman has been a significant benefactor of the University since his graduation, endowing the home of the romance languages department and more recently, the Klarman Fellowship Program.

Klarman Hall, which opened in January 2016 after two years of construction, cost the University $61 million. According to 2013 tax returns, the Klarman Family Foundation donated $26 million to Cornell to “expand access to critical services and enrichment opportunities.”

The billionaire hedge fund manager has also been a frequent donor to political campaigns — contributing to candidates on both sides of the aisle, from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Ut.) to former President Bill Clinton.