*The following letter to the editor was printed in the September/October edition of Campaigns & Elections.

If you’re reading this magazine there is a good chance you are familiar with a voter file. For a generation, it has been the common ingredient in everything we do. During the last campaign cycle, our community accepted that the voter file needs to be the key ingredient in online ad targeting. Targeting properly online matters no less than when targeting with direct mail.

When you buy voter-targeted ads, the implicit understanding on the customer side is that actual voter data powers your targeting effort. However, the online ad networks in our space had a free pass over the last campaign cycle; many of the largest online video and display networks actually got away with selling you the political data equivalent of a knock-off Prada bag.

Many of you are buying fake, also known as modeled or panel-based, voter data. Modeled is a fancy term for “people who look like voters” and is a cheap shortcut for vendors who don’t have the technology or ability to invest in a voter file. One cannot just sprinkle pixie dust on a list of people who look like voters and call it “voter targeted.”

Here’s my advice: when you buy your voter targeted online ads, make sure that you ask your vendor the source of the voter data. Target Democrats, independents, or Republicans, with a specific vote history and use a voter file with a name you’ve heard of.

If you cannot verify the original source of your online voter file, there is a good chance it is modeled. That means fake. Counterfeit. Not real. Run.

Jordan Lieberman is president of CampaignGrid.