Category Archives: campaigns

“Now in Your Inbox: Political Misinformation”

Maggie Astor for the NYT:

A few weeks ago, Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, falsely claimed that the centerpiece of President Biden’s domestic agenda, a $1.75 trillion bill to battle climate change and extend the nation’s social safety net, would include Medicare for all.

It doesn’t, and never has. But few noticed Mr. Crenshaw’s lie because he didn’t say it on Facebook, or on Fox News. Instead, he sent the false message directly to the inboxes of his constituents and supporters in a fund-raising email.

Lawmakers’ statements on social media and cable news are now routinely fact-checked and scrutinized. But email — one of the most powerful communication tools available to politicians, reaching up to hundreds of thousands of people — teems with unfounded claims and largely escapes notice.

The New York Times signed up in August for the campaign lists of the 390 senators and representatives running for re-election in 2022 whose websites offered that option, and read more than 2,500 emails from those campaigns to track how widely false and misleading statements were being used to help fill political coffers.

Both parties delivered heaps of hyperbole in their emails. One Republican, for instance, declared that Democrats wanted to establish a “one-party socialist state,” while a Democrat suggested that the party’s Jan. 6 inquiry was at imminent risk because the G.O.P. “could force the whole investigation to end early.”

But Republicans included misinformation far more often: in about 15 percent of their messages, compared with about 2 percent for Democrats. In addition, multiple Republicans often spread the same unfounded claims, whereas Democrats rarely repeated one another’s.

At least eight Republican lawmakers sent fund-raising emails containing a brazen distortion of a potential settlement with migrants separated from their families during the Trump administration. One of them, Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, falsely claimed that President Biden was “giving every illegal immigrant that comes into our country $450,000.”

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“That ‘Team Beto’ Fund-Raising Email? It Might Not Be From Beto.”

Shane Goldmacher for the NYT:

Where the money goes from there can be murky, though big payments to the operatives and consulting firms that operate those PACs have drawn increasing scrutiny from political colleagues, regulators and law enforcement alike.

Some of these operations are legal, sometimes burying the requisite disclaimers in the fine print. Others may not be. This month, the Justice Department charged three political operatives with running a scheme that prosecutors said defrauded small donors of $3.5 million.

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“House Democrats Have New Strategy for Voters of Color”

All Things Considered, NPR

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched a new, multimillion-dollar initiative “to engage and mobilize voters of color ahead of the midterm elections, including investments in local organizing” and in strategies to stymie “Republican efforts to spread misinformation [and] to cast all Democratic candidates as far-left.”

NPR also reports the National Republican Congressional Committee has committed to “field a truly diverse group of candidates” and is focused on recruiting “female, veteran or minority candidate” for their target districts.

This type of grassroots party-building bodes well for the future of responsive political parties, in my view.

The DCCC’s effort is being led, in part, by “Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. Her approach is clearly shaped by the Georgia Democratic Party’s experiences which were “the result of years of aggressive — and consistent — work.”

“‘[W]e can’t just show up in a community and expect people to listen to us and turn out overnight.’

‘And I had a novel idea, what if we did year-round organizing and continued to bring information to the voters and continued to let voters know how Democrats were delivering for them? That’s what we did in Georgia, that’s how we won in Georgia, and that’s what we’re doing with the DCCC,’ Williams said.”

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“NC operative Dowless rejects plea deal on ballot fraud accusations. Here’s what’s next”

The Charlotte Observer

McCrae Dowless faces 13 state felony charges largely related to his role in in Mark Harris’ 2018 run, as a Republican, for Congress in the North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Dowless rejected a plea deal through which he would avoid significant prison time in exchange for agreeing not to work on elections in the future.

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“Political Campaigns Can Still Target You on Facebook”

From Nick Coransaniti at the NY Times

“On Tuesday, Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, announced changes that, on the surface, would appear to reduce such targeting. But it remains entirely possible for campaigns to get around these limitations. . . . . Indeed, the changes announced by Meta on Tuesday — which arrived amid a growing outcry over the damage social platforms have done to the political and social fabric — will most likely just force political campaigns to switch methods.”

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“Trump Insiders Are Quietly Paying Teen Memers For Posts”


In the fever swamps of Instagram, a network of right-wing meme accounts run by teenage boys and young men has erupted into an advertising powerhouse reaching millions. These memers — who regularly post far-right conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine propaganda and other incendiary clickbait — first caught the attention of obscure brands selling cheap MAGA merch, who started paying themto display ads to their rapidly growing conservative audiences. The money wasn’t great, as a few memers told HuffPost last summer, but it still felt like a big deal to watch their Instagram pages blossom into mini businesses.

Little did they know, members of Donald Trump’s inner circle would soon come knocking.

Since the 2020 election, these meme moguls have quietly collected payments to run ads for the Trump campaign’s “Election Defense Fund”; former senior Trump aide Jason Miller’s new social media network, GETTR; Trump confidant Mike Lindell’s bedding company, MyPillow; and, as recently as a few weeks ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In a few cases, the memers have included high-schoolers as young as 14. Some of these discreet ad deals were brokered directly between teens and former members of the Trump White House, communications obtained by HuffPost reveal.

Most of the ads come in the form of memes with captions urging people to click customized links inserted into the memers’ Instagram bios, which lead to the promoted parties’ websites. The memers typically earn a small “conversion” fee for each person who uses their link, doled out by third-party marketing agencies working with big-name clients. Given the massive reach of several of these pages, often boosted by Instagram’s powerful recommendation algorithms, this can quickly add up. For the recent GETTR ad campaign, memers earned $0.85 per conversion with a cap of 25,000 conversions — or $21,250….

he services they provide are highly valuable: They’ve fostered relationships with huge niche communities and can launch hushed influence campaigns that are free from the kind of oversight and transparency mandates enforced through regulated advertising channels. This could open the door to dark-money campaigns and targeted, opaque disinformation operations reminiscent of when the Internet Research Agency, Russia’s Kremlin-linked troll farm, attempted to influence U.S. voters from the shadows via meme warfare in 2016.

Almost none of the dozens of meme ads that HuffPost has observed have been labeled as paid endorsements — a form of deceptive advertising known as “stealth shilling.” In certain cases, memers’ failure to disclose their compensation likely constitutes a violation of federal law for which they, the promoted parties and any intermediaries could be held liable. 

But the evidence doesn’t exist for long: Unlike an official ad placed through Instagram’s business platform, which would be stored in an online database and subject to public scrutiny, the memers tend to delete sponsored posts from their pages after just 24 to 72 hours. This is especially problematic when it comes to ads of a political nature, as it allows advertisers to target voters with virtually untraceable messaging.

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“Virginia Republicans file suit over McAuliffe’s paperwork”


The Republican Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit Thursday asking the courts to remove Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe from the ballot for failing to sign an official form declaring his candidacy. The McAuliffe campaign dismissed the suit as “desperate” and “Trumpian.”

McAuliffe won a June primary election for the Democratic nomination. But the lawsuit argues that McAuliffe should be disqualified from running in the November general election because of the omission of his signature — a move election experts say is unlikely.

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“New intel reports indicate fresh efforts by Russia to interfere in 2022 election”


The Biden administration is receiving regular intelligence reports indicating Russian efforts to interfere in US elections are evolving and ongoing, current and former officials say, and in fact, never stopped, despite President Joe Biden’s warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the summer and a new round of sanctions imposed in the spring.

Biden made deliberate mention of Russia’s operations two weeks ago when he revealed in public remarks to the intelligence community that that he had received fresh intelligence about “what Russia’s doing already about the 2022 election and misinformation” in his daily intelligence briefing that day.

“It’s a pure violation of our sovereignty,” Biden said at the time.

One of the people familiar with the matter confirmed that there have been recent intelligence reports about what the Russians are up to, particularly their efforts to sow disinformation on social media and weaponize US media outlets for propaganda purposes. There are some indications that Moscow is now attempting to capitalize on the debate raging inside the US over vaccines and masking, other sources told CNN.

Sources closely tracking Russian activity say that Moscow’s tactics are evolving and are more sophisticated than their early 2016 efforts, which included easy-to-trace efforts like buying Facebook ads. They also emphasize that elections are not Moscow’s only target.

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“Cuomo Has $18 Million in Campaign Cash. What Can He Do With It?”

New York Times:

Even after his resignation takes effect in less than two weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will still control the largest pot of campaign cash in New York politics, an $18 million war chest amassed in apparent preparation for a run at a fourth term next year.

That prospect now seems remote: Mr. Cuomo, accused of sexually harassing nearly a dozen women, announced Tuesday that he would step down as he faced the threat of impeachment and a chorus of calls for his resignation.

But his huge stock of campaign funds — the most money retained by a departing New York politician in recent memory — affords him a range of possibilities, including the chance to attempt an eventual comeback or to play a role in the state’s political life by donating to other candidates.

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Same judge on same day denies motions to dismiss in Dominion, Devin Nunes defamation lawsuits

Jacqueline Thomsen at the National Law Journal has more on Dominion v. Powell and Nunes v. Washington Post. For more, the Wall Street Journal on Dominion and Law360 on Nunes.

From Dominion (with some citations removed):

Powell contends that no reasonable person could conclude that her statements were statements of fact because they “concern the 2020 presidential election, which was both bitter and controversial,” and were made “as an attorney-advocate for [Powell’s] preferred candidate and in support of her legal and political positions.” As an initial matter, there is no blanket immunity for statements that are “political” in nature: as the Court of Appeals has put it, the fact that statements were made in a “political ‘context’ does not indiscriminately immunize every statement contained therein.” It is true that courts recognize the value in some level of “imaginative expression” or “rhetorical hyperbole” in our public debate. But it is simply not the law that provably false statements cannot be actionable if made in the context of an election.

. . .

The question, then, is whether a reasonable juror could conclude that Powell’s statements
expressed or implied a verifiably false fact about Dominion. This is not a close call. To take one example, Powell has stated publicly that she has “evidence from [the] mouth of the guy who founded [Dominion] admit[ting that] he can change a million votes, no problem at all.” She told audiences that she would “tweet out the video.” These statements are either true or not; either Powell has a video depicting the founder of Dominion saying he can “change a million votes,” or she does not.

To take another example, Powell has stated that she could “hardly wait to put forth all the evidence . . . on Dominion, starting with the fact it was created to produce altered voting results in Venezuela for Hugo Chávez.” Again, this statement is either true or it is not; either Dominion was created to produce altered voting results in Venezuela for Hugo Chávez or (as Dominion alleges) it was not.

Lots more like that in the opinion. (More from Jonathan Adler here.)

From Nunes, which the court describes as a “close one” (with some citations removed):

Nunes alleges that the article is false because he has never claimed that the Obama administration spied on Trump Tower. The Post doesn’t really contend that Nunes has ever made that claim; instead, it argues that the article is substantially true because a claim about the Obama administration “spying on Trump Tower” is not materially different from Nunes’ public claims about the Obama administration “spying on the Trump campaign” and conducting “surveillance activities” against President Trump and his associates. . . .

This argument might be persuasive if the article stated merely that Nunes had made claims about spying on Trump Tower; without more, a reader might think there is no meaningful difference between “spying on Trump Tower” and “surveillance activities . . . used against President Trump and his associates.” But the article also labeled Nunes’s claims as “baseless,” and the Court must consider the article as a whole. By November 2020, there was evidence to support (at least to a certain extent) Nunes’s claims about intelligence activities that touched on the Trump campaign; by that time, an Inspector General report had concluded there had been an investigation “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia,” and that the investigation targeted certain U.S. persons affiliated with the campaign. What remained baseless in November 2020 (or at least what Nunes alleges remained baseless) was the claim President Trump asserted in his March 2017 tweet: that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower. But Nunes alleges he never made such a claim. This is an important difference: A reasonable juror could conclude that there is a material difference between stating that Nunes had made a claim supported by evidence (that the Obama administration had undertaken intelligence activities related to individuals involved in the Trump campaign) and stating that Nunes had made a baseless claim (that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower). A reasonable juror could therefore conclude that the article was materially false because it stated that Nunes had made such a baseless claim (when he had not).

But even if the article was materially false, it must also have defamatory meaning; that is, it must rise to the level of making Nunes “appear odious, infamous, or ridiculous,” or “tend[] to injure [him] in his trade, profession or community standing, or lower him in the estimation of the community.” . . .

The Post argues that the suggestion that Nunes “viewed documents that he believed would provide support for claims of spying made by the President” does not make him “appear odious, infamous, or ridiculous” nor suggest that he is unfit for his position as a congressman. As the Post puts it, “it was not defamatory to say that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, ‘a staunch supporter of President Trump,’ viewed documents that he believed could lend credence to the President’s claims.” But again, that is not all that the article says. Taken as a whole, the article says (or at least a reasonable juror could understand the article to say) that Nunes had made baseless claims about spying on Trump Tower and then visited the White House to inspect documents that might support those baseless claims. And a reasonable juror could conclude that an elected official is ridiculous or unfit for office if he searched for evidence to support baseless claims. Indeed, the online article stated that Nunes had searched for this evidence “late at night,” suggesting something untoward about the outing. Although the Post argues that such timing suggests merely that Nunes “devoted significant time and energy to his duties,” a reasonable juror could conclude that the article carried a different meaning.

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“Giuliani told agents it was okay to ‘throw a fake’ during political campaign”

Washington Post:

Rudolph W. Giuliani’s promise of a “big surprise” to help Donald Trump’s election in October 2016 led to Democratic accusations the FBI was feeding him secrets about an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

But a newly obtained transcript shows the former New York mayor told federal agents it was okay to “throw a fake” when campaigning, to which his then-law partner added, “there’s no obligation to tell the truth.”

Giuliani’s comments came in a 2018 interview with agents for the Justice Department inspector general, conducted in a room at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington. The Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, sued for a copy of the interview transcript and provided it to The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Giuliani’s private defense of his actions has come to light as he and other Trump lawyers face discipline and possible court sanctions for their unfounded statements surrounding the 2020 election, raising questions about lawyers’ integrity in a democracy.

During the February 2018 interview to try to determine if FBI agents had leaked him sensitive information, Giuliani’s then-law partner and counselor, Marc Mukasey, opined that the standards for truth-telling are different in electoral politics than in legal matters.

“In the heat of a political campaign, on television, I’m not saying Rudy necessarily, but everybody embellishes everything,” Mukasey said.

“Oh, you could throw a fake,” added Giuliani — who in addition to serving as mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001 also spent eight years as a federal prosecutor in the city.

“You’re under no obligation to tell the truth,” Mukasey replies, according to the transcript. To which Giuliani repeats, “You could throw a fake.”

An agent then said, “Fake news, right?”

Mukasey replied, “Right.”

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Sixth Circuit affirms convictions for unlawful contributions to Kentucky candidate for U.S. Senate

The opinion in United States v. Emmons is here. Alison Lundergan Grimes from Kentucky challenged Mitch McConnell in 2014 for a U.S. Senate seat. Her father (who ran a closely-held business) and a family friend were found guilty of making unlawful corporate contributions to the campaign. The Sixth Circuit found that “intrafamilial contributions” could be constitutionally regulated (relying on Buckley v. Valeo), and that funds from a closely-held, family run corporation could be constitutionally regulated (distinguishing Citizens United v. FEC: “given that intrafamilial contributions can be constitutionally restricted, there is no concern regarding speech discrimination based on the ‘speaker’s corporate identity,’ and no basis to treat these contributions any differently from other corporate contributions, or contributions generally for that matter”). More details in the 30-page opinion.

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“Sex, Suffrage, and State Constitutional Law: Women’s Legal Right to Hold Public Office”

New draft from Elizabeth D. Katz on SSRN, forthcoming in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. Abstract:

On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the nation’s first woman Vice President. This occasion, with women of color holding two of the most crucial roles in our national government, would have been unthinkable for most of United States history. While the political efforts necessary to reach this moment have been studied in great depth, the legal challenges have been overlooked and even denied.

Relying on extensive historical research, this Article is the first to examine how women advocated for the legal right to hold public office in state-level litigation, constitutional amendments, legislative lobbying, and other venues for more than a century. From the 1840s through the 1940s, women in many states were excluded from holding even mundane public offices because of state constitutional language and judicial holdings. Opponents of women’s officeholding feared that permitting women to hold posts would deprive men of their rightful opportunities, radically alter gender norms, and fuel the flames of the women’s suffrage movement. The nation’s first women lawyers were particularly active in challenging these restrictions, with results varying by region and reflecting distinct legal, political, and social cultures. Women in the West obtained public offices relatively early, in part because they were the first to secure suffrage. Women in the Northeast and South faced the most difficult hurdles because conservative state judiciaries construed constitutional silences as implying women’s exclusion from office. The Midwest emerged as the contested middle ground; although women could not vote in Midwestern states for most of the studied period, many courts nevertheless held that they were entitled to hold both appointed and elected offices.

Recovering the history of women’s legal right to hold public office challenges three major conventional wisdoms. First, it undermines the commonplace claim in scholarship on women’s legal and political history that officeholding was not a meaningful part of women’s advocacy or experiences until after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. This account instead shows that proponents of women’s rights have long demanded women’s access to public posts, and women held positions more than a half century prior to the federal suffrage amendment. Second, this Article challenges prominent scholarship—mostly focused on interpreting the Reconstruction Amendments—that treats officeholding as an obvious or inevitable twin to suffrage. Foregrounding women’s history and state-level advocacy emphasizes the legal possibility and practical reality of severing these political rights. Third, and relatedly, the Article calls for more attention to state constitutional law and regional variation. The women’s officeholding story clearly demonstrates how focusing on one geographical area, providing a single national account, or limiting analysis to the federal level obscures essential developments in securing rights.

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“Partisan Polarization Is the Primary Psychological Motivation behind Political Fake News Sharing on Twitter”

Recent article of note in the American Political Science Review:

The rise of “fake news” is a major concern in contemporary Western democracies. Yet, research on the psychological motivations behind the spread of political fake news on social media is surprisingly limited. Are citizens who share fake news ignorant and lazy? Are they fueled by sinister motives, seeking to disrupt the social status quo? Or do they seek to attack partisan opponents in an increasingly polarized political environment? This article is the first to test these competing hypotheses based on a careful mapping of psychological profiles of over 2,300 American Twitter users linked to behavioral sharing data and sentiment analyses of more than 500,000 news story headlines. The findings contradict the ignorance perspective but provide some support for the disruption perspective and strong support for the partisan polarization perspective. Thus, individuals who report hating their political opponents are the most likely to share political fake news and selectively share content that is useful for derogating these opponents. Overall, our findings show that fake news sharing is fueled by the same psychological motivations that drive other forms of partisan behavior, including sharing partisan news from traditional and credible news sources.

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Facebook disables accounts tied to NYU research project that studied political ads


Facebook Inc. has disabled the personal accounts of a group of New York University researchers studying political ads on the social network, claiming they are scraping data in violation of the company’s terms of service.

The company also cut off the researchers’ access to Facebook’s APIs, technology that is used to share data from Facebook to other apps or services, and disabled other apps and Pages associated with the research project, according to Mike Clark, a director of product management on Facebook’s privacy team.

The researchers are part of a project called the NYU Ad Observatory, which asks people to download a browser extension that collects data on what political ads the users see on Facebook, and how those ads were targeted.

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