NEW YORK – In an anti-establishment movement from the left that bears some organizational resemblance to the tea party on the right, Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders has turned to a George Soros-sponsored, labor-union organizer and computer hacker to run his nationwide ground game.
Zack Exley was dubbed by George W. Bush “the garbage man” after hacking Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign website.
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Sanders hired Exley last summer to join his campaign digital team, Politico reported, noting that “operative” Exley would help the candidate “secure votes and mobilize volunteers.”
Exley’s history with the far-left of the Democratic Party is complicated, but it illustrates the dynamics of the chasm developing between the new Democratic Party voting majority lining up to support Sanders in clear rejection of the establishment candidate, former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
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Many within the Clinton camp suspect Exley is connected to the international network of computer hackers that exposed Clinton's private email server in 2013.
A close examination of Exley’s career and his current role with the Sanders campaign affirms Sanders' socialist movement is attempting a revolution within the Democratic Party to advance the “fundamental change in America” Barack Obama announced in 2008.
'The garbage man'
In 1999, the Washington Post reported Exley, as an exercise in “political satire,” created gwbush.com to mock George W. Bush’s official presidential campaign website, georgewbush.com. Exley posted on the site a hacked photograph of Bush with a straw up his nose, inhaling white lines in an obvious parody to suggest Bush was a drug-user.
Bush, not amused, charged the mock website was produced by “a garbage man” and filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, threatening to sue Exley for using photographs hacked from Bush’s official campaign website.
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In September, the San Francisco website BayAreaForBernie.com reported Exley had teamed up with Claire Sandberg, another tech team member known for running a digital campaign against fracking in New York, also hired by Sanders in August.
Exley and Sandberg were in San Francisco to implement volunteer management software developed by the Sanders team to recruit campaign organizers who would operate as self-directed autonomous nodes in a network structure, not as ground-game operatives managed in a hierarchical, top-down, pyramid structure.
In November, the Texas Tribune reported Exley and Sandberg were opening a Sanders campaign headquarters in Austin, where Exley told the nearly 200 volunteers who showed up at an office-opening meeting that they had a goal of making 850,000 phone calls to identify Sanders supporters willing to work to help Sanders win the March 1 Texas primary.
Exley ties to Hillary’s email scandal
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Exley has deep ties to the political operatives who established and operated the private email server Hillary Clinton utilized while she served as secretary of state.
After serving as the director of online communications and online organizing for the unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, Exley in 2015 co-founded the New Organizing Institute, NOI, as a think tank to produce computer-savvy field operatives for left-oriented Democratic Party political campaigns.
Serving with Exley on the advisory board of NOI was Nathaniel Pearlman, another leftist political operative. In 1997, Pearlman founded NGP Software Inc., a computer-oriented company organized to provide political software identifying Democratic voters. The software was used at various times by Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean, Rep. Richard Gephardt, Kerry, Edwards and Obama.
Pearlman also served as the chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton hired Pearlman and his then-fledging NGP Software in her first 1999 Senate election campaign to clean up campaign data on donors that had contributed some $30 million. The aim was to produce correctly filed FEC reports and avoid hefty penalties that could have been used against her in attack ads.
As chief technology officer for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, Pearlman supervised the campaign’s Internet technology director, Bryan Pagliano.
Pagliano’s résumé on Linkedin.com notes he worked for Clinton from 2006-2009. In 2008, he “headed the design and build of the campaign headquarters’ data center and orchestrated the continuous movement of technical equipment and staff among nationwide field officers in response to ever-changing organizational needs.” When Clinton’s presidential campaign disbanded, Pagliano moved to working for her political action committee.
As reported by the Washington Post in September 2015, Bill and Hillary Clinton personally paid Pagliano $5,000 for “computer services” prior to his becoming a State Department employee, according to a financial disclosure form Pagliano filed in April 2009.
The payment evidently was for establishing a private server for the Clintons in their home in Chappaqua, New York.
In May 2009, the State Department employed Pagliano as a special adviser.
The Washington Post article further established that even after he became a State Department employee, the Clintons continued paying Pagliano privately to maintain the private server for Hillary Clinton. Pagliano neglected to list the outside income in the required financial disclosures he filed with the State Department each year until the State Department concluded his full-time employment in February 2013, coincident with Hillary Clinton’s departure as secretary of state.
In 2013, after Clinton's private email server was exposed by Romanian hacker Marcel-Leher Lazar, known as “Guccifer,” Pearlman recommended Clinton should move her private email server out of the Chappaqua home.
The company chosen was the relatively small and largely unknown Denver-based Platte River Networks, where vice president David DeCamillis was a 1983 graduate of Boulder High School, the same high school from which Pearlman graduated the following year.
On Sept. 10, 2015, after he became a target of the FBI investigation into Hillary’s private email server, Pagliano asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege not to answer questions in a closed-door session with the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Breach of Hillary’s voting data
In December, the New York Times reported the Sanders campaign's firing of Josh Uretsky, its national data director, after serving less than four complete months. The firing made public a fight between the Sanders campaign and the leadership of the DNC supporting Hillary Clinton.
ABC News reported Uretsky was fired after accessing without authorization a DNC-maintained voter data belonging to the Clinton campaign.
"The DNC was notified on Wednesday by its data systems vendor NGP VAN that as a result of a software patch, all users on the system across Democratic campaigns were inadvertently able to access some data belonging to other campaigns for a brief window," DNC spokesman Luis Miranda told ABC News in a statement. "The DNC immediately directed NGP VAN to conduct a thorough analysis to identify any users who accessed the data, what actions they took in the system, and to report on the findings to the Party and any affected campaign.”
The back story is that in 2010, NGP, the voter data company started by Pearlman in 1997, merged with the Voice Activation Network to form NGP VAN.
Then, in 2011, NGP acquired the Voice Activation Network to become NGP VAN. In 2013, NGP VAN acquired National Field, a voter-data startup launched out of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.
According to the NGP VAN website, NGP VAN is currently the architect of the DNC “Vote Builder” database that was being used at the time of the data breach that got Uretsky fired.
The New York Times further reported in December that in retaliation for the data breach, the DNC, instead of disciplining NGP VAN for careless handling of the “Voter Builder” database, acted swiftly to deny the Sanders campaign future access to the Democratic Party’s 50-state voter file, which contains information about millions of Democrats and “is invaluable to campaigns on a daily basis.”
In response, Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, held a press conference in which he charged the DNC was trying to help the Clinton campaign by cutting the Sanders’ campaign off from the NGP VAN-driven “Voter Builder” database.
On Dec. 19, after the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC, the DNC reversed course and restored the Sanders campaign access to the voter database.
Still, supporters of the Sanders campaign charged the DNC with a set-up. They argued that Uretsky was recommended to the Sanders campaign both by the DNC and NGP VAN, fueling suspicion the “data breach” was engineered by the DNC and the Clinton campaign to sabotage the Sanders campaign. The theory was that the DNC entrapped Sanders campaign IT managers like Uretsky into a data breach that would justify the DNC cutting the Sanders campaign from access to the voter data base during the critical lead-up to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
Probing deeper, the database Obama’s presidential campaign utilized in 2012 to defeat GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was not the NGA VAN database developed by Pearlman, a Clinton partisan, but by Catalyst, a progressive voter database that supplies data to NGA VAN and consists of data on virtually every adult in the United States.
Borrowing from the “leaderless” organizational structures of far-left movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, the Sanders campaign is buying voter data from Catalyst and seeding it into a self-directed volunteer software Exley developed for Sanders. It's an approach consistent with the grassroots revolution Sanders is funding largely with small-dollar contributions from millions of average Americans.
“Bernie is committed to not taking big money, and while that means he doesn’t have the financial resources to create a hierarchical organization, he does have the people resources to foster a team-based (or horizontal) organization,” wrote the editors of “Bay Area for Bernie,” reflecting on Exley’s recent campaign organizing trip to California.
“The costs of this structure are that it’s difficult (although not impossible) to scale, authority and decision-making ability is disseminated among many groups and individuals, and it requires a team culture to function well. But that’s what we’re shooting for, right?” the San Francisco editors for Sanders noted. “A grassroots political revolution on the Left is going to require us to work together as a team.”
A Soros-funded career
After his career as an “Internet explorer, prankster and organizer,” Exley became the “organizing director” for the George Soros-funded MoveOn.org, serving in that capacity for one year and three months, according to his résumé published at Linkedin.com.
David Horowitz’s website DiscoverTheNetworks.org notes that not long after Exley joined MoveOn.org, he had an opportunity to return to his “satire” hijinks, as MoveOn.org launched a contest encouraging its members to produce negative ads about President Bush. It resulted in two ads posted on the MoveOn.org website that co-mingled images of Bush with Adolf Hitler, for which Exley refused to apologize.
As a fellow of the Open Society Institute founded by Soros in 1993, Exley wrote a series of articles starting in 2009 that drew far-left organizing lessons from the labor-union movement and the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.
“After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Exley began his career attending a training program run by the AFL-CIO, after which he took a job with the United Auto Workers,” wrote staff writer Joseph Menn in a 2004 Los Angeles Times article profiling Exley as he teamed up with the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign.
“For seven months, he worked undercover at a Michigan auto parts factory,” Menn continued. “The unionization effort there failed, but Exley later used a team of infiltrators to successfully organize large nursing homes in Minnesota.
“Exley's unlikely rise from union organizer and small-time software programmer to top campaign operative mirrors the rapidly expanding role of the Internet in politics,” Menn noted. “More valuable than decades of slogging in the trenches of the major parties is a few years' experience out in the free-form world of the Web – a realm where the tools of the trade evolve every week and a joke can grab more attention than a thousand position papers.”