Progressive activist group NextGen America obtained private contact information of over 30,000 students currently enrolled at the Virginia Commonwealth University, according to press reports, in what has to be an unprecedented confiscation of personal data by a political organization.  This follows earlier reports from the Richmond Times Dispatch where NextGen obtained information from Radford University and Virginia Tech.

NextGen is a political activist group founded by California billionaire and climate change activist Tom Steyer, who has pledged to spend over $2 million to elect Ralph Northam as the next Governor of Virginia.

A NextGen spokesperson spoke to the Commonwealth Times and said that the group aims to elect Democrats throughout the Virginia ticket but has claimed that the information it received from these colleges was not used to contact students. This goes against many VCU students claims that they received text messages from people who claim to be involved with NextGen.

The Commonwealth Times adds that according to Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, this directory data is part of the public records. However, Virginia’s FOIA records also allow universities to withhold this information. This is why some universities chose to release the records and others did not, despite NextGen requesting information from all of Virginia’s 39 publically funded universities.

Response from VCU has been lacking, with a spokesperson telling the Commonwealth Times saying that the university is reviewing its current practices for similar requests.

This event has also drawn a response from Virginia House of Delegates members Joseph Yost (R-Giles) and Tony Wilt (R-Harrisonburg), who have announced that they will be pursuing legislation in the Virginia House to make sure state universities do not release directory information to third parties without the an individual student’s written consent.

“Students should not have to jump through hoops to protect their own personal and private information,” said Yost in a press release. “And that information should most certainly not be given freely to political groups seeking to exploit student’s personal information”, adding that the idea universities could turn over directory information without a student’s consent is “shocking and frightening.”

Tom Steyer’s involvement further complicated matters for the Democrats. The California hedge fund manager has previously backed Northam and has helped the Lieutenant Governor to hire at least 70 paid staffers, according to the Washington Post. Steyer has focused on millennial turnout with a focus on issues like climate change and his infamous ad-campaign calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.