February 23, 2014
Republicans to launch more Fake Democrat websites
February 23, 2014. Washington. Independents are mad, Democrats are happy and Republicans are confused. That seems to be the result of an ongoing and universally condemned Republican Party election tactic. The GOP’s Congressional Committee has launched dozens of fake campaign websites for at least 18 Democratic Congressional candidates, slandering their character and tricking voters into donating money to the Republicans instead of the Democrat they think they are.
One of the many fake Democratic websites hosted by Congressional Republicans. Image courtesy of TheWire.com.
With the result of their widely condemned campaign being the exact opposite of what the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) must have hoped for, it’s inexplicable that GOP leaders have just confirmed they’re not only standing by the program, but expanding it to more Congressional districts around the country.
Fake campaign websites
Posing as your election opponent and then perpetrating some horrendous act to make voters hate them isn’t a new campaign tactic. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the books. And Republicans certainly don’t have a monopoly on it. Democrats have been using the same tactic, usually using fake campaign flyers containing racist or anti-Semitic hate speech, and then stamping their opponents name, picture and campaign logo on it as if they put out the material.
This time, it’s the National Republican Congressional Committee that is funding and managing the fake Democratic candidate websites. According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, the Republican Congressional Committee launched the first fake website in August. It targets Sean Eldridge, the Democratic candidate for New York’s 19th Congressional seat. The site sits at the domain SeanEldridgeForCongress2014.com and looks like a legitimate campaign site for the Democratic candidate.
The site’s home page even touts in large, bold headlines, ‘Sean Eldridge for Congress 2014.’ Below that, it reads, ‘Multi-millionaire Sean Eldridge is running for Congress so that he can take his rightful place alongside the liberal elitist establishment in Washington DC that is seeking to return America to the one-party rule of 2008-10. Sean is hoping to buy your support in the coming 18 months and he put a big down payment on that purchase when he bought his new $2 million dollar mansion in Shokan so that he could run for Congress.’
Another fake GOP site, this one exposed by TheWire.com, poses as Montana Democratic Congressional candidate John Lewis. The website begins, ‘John Lewis is tired of sitting on the sidelines watching his boss, longtime liberal crusader Max Baucus, get all the credit for advancing President Obama’s out-of-touch agenda, including Obamacare.’ The fake site also illustrates why many legal experts believe the tactic is against the law.
‘Had enough of John Lewis?’ the home page asks, ‘DONATE’. Each fake site has a similar bold appeal for contributions. And each makes it look like the donations are going to the Democratic candidate when they are actually going to the Republican Party. The NRCC has already had to return numerous donations from voters who fell for the trick and then complained to their local media outlets. In one instance, a Democratic candidate and his supporters have already filed a lawsuit against the GOP.
Against the law
One campaign legal expert interviewed in the LA Times report says he believes the tactic is illegal. Paul S. Ryan from the Campaign Legal Center told the publication that it clearly violates a 1990’s election law that bans ‘non-candidate committees, such as the NRCC, from using a candidate’s name in headlines, titles and letterheads unless the use demonstrates clear opposition to the candidate.’ “These websites are on the opposite end of the spectrum,” Ryan explained, “A name preceding the term ‘for Congress’ is textbook pro-candidate advocacy.”
The NRCC’s counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has been outspoken in its condemnation of the fake websites too. “Republicans in Congress have gotten so desperate and afraid defending their special interest agenda,” Josh Schwerin, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman, said in a statement published in part by the Times, ‘they are now trying to “trick people into supporting them and trying to disown their own toxic, out-of-touch brand.”’
When confronted about the seemingly fraudulent and illegal campaign trick, NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato defended the tactic. “I think they are crystal clear about the perspective they are coming from,” he was quoted replying, “And the Democrats don’t want this information out there. Therefore, they’re freaking out about them.”
But in a follow-up investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported that the NRCC had adjusted all the fake campaign websites so that when tricked voters click on the ‘Donate’ button, they’re now taken to an obviously Republican web page. While the GOP has taken steps to avoid defrauding victims out of money, a blatantly illegal act, they’ve reaffirmed their commitment to the program they insist is perfectly legal.
The follow-up report quoted a statement from the NRCC’s Scarpinato saying, “We recently updated our contribution pages, as we frequently do, to highlight our efforts to defeat House Democrats in 2014 and prevent Nancy Pelosi from ever being speaker of the House again.” It was also revealed that at least 18 Democratic Congressional candidates are victims of the fake website scheme. In New Jersey, Democratic candidate Bill Hughes Jr. and his supporters filed an FEC complaint accusing the GOP of hosting no less than 15 fake ‘Bill Hughes for Congress’ campaign websites.
The complaint reads, ‘As part of its fundraising efforts, since October 2013, the NRCC has recently engaged in deceptive, misleading and potentially fraudulent activity by establishing a website that is branded as the website of a Democratic congressional candidate.’ It goes on to say, ‘The website is seeking donations – and thus seeks to profit in bad faith, through false, fraudulent and deceptive tactics – from utilizing the name of a Democratic congressional candidate all in violation of [U.S. code].’
Legal experts have almost unanimously agreed that the Republicans’ fake website tactic is at best dishonest, and at worst, criminal. But there’s no sign of the GOP stopping it any time soon. In fact, they’ve bragged that they intend to expand the program. And there doesn’t appear there’s anything authorities can do about it, at least before the election. The experts also reluctantly point out that the wheels of justice grind slowly and any court ruling or government action wouldn’t happen until well after the November elections.
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