According to a November 17th story from CNN, Republicans and outside groups used a number of anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections. Legal experts say this may have been a violation of new election laws promulgated since the Citizens United case opened up unlimited money in political campaigns.
The user of fake Twitter accounts to hide information in plain sight is just the latest effort by political operatives to exploit murky campaign finance laws when limits on spending in politics are nearly and regulators have been largely emasculated.
How secret Twitter accounts worked
It turns out the Twitter profiles were publicly available, but useless to anyone without knowledge of how to access the accounts and decode the information. At least two external political groups as well as the Republican party campaign committee had access to the information posted to the accounts, according to a CNN source.
For example, a typical tweet read: “CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52–>49/476-10s.” Although it might look like gibberish, the tweet actually represents polling data for several House races.
Twitter accounts were deleted after CNN contacted GOP
Although no criminal offenses have been alleged to date, the GOP operatives closed the accounts immediately after CNN contacted Republican officials with questions. Of note, the accounts CNN reviewed were active in the months ahead of the election two weeks ago, which gave Republicans their largest majority in the House in 60 years as well as control of the Senate. They were up until November 3rd, but were shut down just minutes after CNN contacted the NRCC regarding the accounts.
Law says no sharing of information among political groups
The Federal Election Commission makes and enforces election laws. The law currently states that outside political groups (such as super PACs) can spend as much as they want on political causes as long as they don’t coordinate their plans with specific campaigns.
However, despite the clearly unethical intent of the Twitter communications, legal experts have expressed doubts the FEC will respond strongly. They note members of FEC have been deadlocked along party lines for years, and attorneys on both sides develop legal arguments before engaging in such practices to protect their side in a legal tussle.
Statement from FEC vice chair
CNN contacted FEC vice-chair Ann Ravel to get a response to Monday’s news, and she said noted commission may address the use of social media to share campaign information in the future, but admitted that the rules governing campaign finance are “murky.”
Regarding the GOP’s strategy of using tweets to share polling data, Ravel wrote on Twitter, ” it shows that tech [is] changing politics… but coordination rules [are] sadly murky.”