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  • Republicans can't quit fake news

    The Republican Party has increasingly created and used political microsites designed to look like local news sites as a political tactic. Here’s why that’s bad for democracy.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last fall, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from the Arizona Monitor on her Facebook page. Ward’s campaign must have really liked the endorsement because it reprinted it in full on her campaign website. But what is the Arizona Monitor? Is it a local news site? A blog covering local politics in Arizona? Or is it something else entirely?

    A Politico investigation found that the Arizona Monitor “launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.” Inquiries to Arizona politicos didn’t turn up anything either, with some telling the outlet that “they could only scratch their heads” and were befuddled by the site’s background.

    There’s nothing wrong with a local political blog supporting Ward’s campaign, or Ward’s team touting a friendly endorsement on her campaign website and social media. But political campaigns are notoriously overcautious about what they post on social media. Campaigns don’t normally highlight an endorsement from entities no one has heard of, especially when it launched just a few weeks prior. Politico noted that Ward denied any knowledge about the site on Facebook. Given that, there are two obvious questions: Is Arizona Monitor a phony news site meant to fool voters on Kelli Ward’s behalf? If so, who exactly is paying for it?

    We may never know who was behind the Arizona Monitor, as the site crumbled quickly after coming under scrutiny. Initially, it posted an article defending itself, but as I was writing this the website was deleted, as well as the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Local political blogs don’t generally operate this way; they relish being attacked by larger media outlets (the posture Arizona Monitor initially took) and do not disappear suddenly when attacked. Given its hasty exit from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Arizona Monitor was some kind of front.

    Republican campaigns and entities creating campaign microsites designed to look like local news sites to support their candidates is nothing new. In 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) created a series of phony news sites meant to mimic local news sites. The sites included a disclaimer at the bottom but otherwise made no indication that they were the product of a Republican campaign committee. An NRCC spokesperson at the time called it a “new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.” And last year, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) tried its hand at running its own microsite disguised as news site. As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz noted at the time:

    FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).

    The website is still active.

    In Maine, the state Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the state’s ethics agency alleging that the Maine Examiner, an anonymously owned news site covering Maine politics, made illegal expenditures in a local mayor’s race and that they might have coordinated with the Maine Republican Party as well.

    More recently, Politico reported that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apparently not content to let the NRCC handle his fake news needs, has a phony news site entirely paid for by his campaign committee. The website CARepublican.com, which Nunes refused to discuss with Politico, has a proper, if tiny, disclaimer but no other indication that it is a campaign website rather than an actual local news site or blog.

    But my personal favorite political phony news proprietor is GOP political consultant Dan Backer, who’s turned fake news into a money maker for his pro-Trump super PACs by using them to drive email sign ups and donations. A BuzzFeed investigation last summer found:

    Along with AAN [American Action News], Backer or his company, DB Capitol Strategies, is listed as the owner of conservative news domains AmericanUpdate.com, TrumpTrainNews.com, and GOPPresidential.com. Two other news sites — Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com — link out heavily to the Backer-connected web properties, and use the same Google AdSense and Analytics codes as AAN and the three other sites. Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com are also hosted on the same server as GOPPresidential.com — yet another piece of evidence to suggest they too are part of the network of sites connected to Backer. (The server in question hosts only those three websites.)

    Backer’s political fake news game is a whole new level, combining grassroots digital engagement with clickbait to build lists of supporters his super PACs can message and activate.

    Last week, I wrote about how Trump supporters share the most “junk news” online. Given that, it would seem predictable that Republicans would skip the middleman and just create the content themselves. Even better if they can use said content to raise funds for their political activities.

    But what might work for the Republican Party in the short term is terrible for democracy. A recent Knight News/Gallup survey found trust in media and views on what is or isn’t fake news was increasingly viewed through a partisan lens. Whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from more mainstream media outlets, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption. News sites -- run by the GOP about the GOP -- risk shrinking that filter bubble even further. If this trend continues, and phony GOP news sites increase in popularity, conservatives could reach a point where much of the political news they consume would come directly from the Republican Party and associated campaign committees.

  • Right-wing media's new voter fraud "proof" is even more asinine than usual

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing and fringe media outlets and figures, including Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, are citing a Washington Times article about several thousand New Hampshire voters using out-of-state driver’s licenses to register to vote to bolster conservative claims of fraud and say that Republicans may have actually won the state. But journalists and election experts shot down these claims of voter fraud and explained that New Hampshire’s voter ID law permits out-of-state driver’s licenses to be used as proof of identity when voting, an option that college students often exercise.

  • Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia probably would have been illegal, contrary to conservative claims

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    PolitiFact rated Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett’s claim that collusion with a foreign government in an election isn’t a crime “false,” citing three election law experts who named four statutes that could have been violated. Amid an FBI probe into whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, various conservative media figures have piled on to make similar claims that such actions -- if they occurred -- are not illegal.

    On May 10, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera was among the first to say that collusion with the Russian government in an election wouldn’t be a crime. Fox host Sean Hannity said on his radio show on May 22, “Let’s say they did [collude], they said to Vladimir Putin, ‘Hey Vladimir, release everything you got.’ And Vladimir released it to Julian Assange. You know, is that a crime?” On May 30, Fox’s Jarrett asserted on air that “collusion is not a crime. … You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election. There is no such statute.” Jarrett made a similar argument in a FoxNews.com op-ed. And on May 31, conservative author Michael Reagan claimed on CNN, “Collusion is not breaking the law,” and repeatedly asked “what law” collusion breaks.

    In a June 1 fact check, PolitiFact, responding to Jarrett, wrote, “We ran Jarrett’s argument by three election law professors, and they all said that while the word ‘collusion’ might not appear in key statutes (they couldn’t say for sure that it was totally absent), working with the Russians could violate criminal laws”:

    Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

    "A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."

    Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals "from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate."

    Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

    "The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.

    To be sure, no one is saying that coordination took place. What’s in doubt is whether the word "collusion" is as pivotal as Jarrett makes it out to be.

    Coates said discussions between a campaign and a foreigner could violate the law against fraud.

    "Under that statute, it is a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to ‘deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,’ " Coates said. "That would include fixing a fraudulent election, in my view, within the plain meaning of the statute."

    Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

    "Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."

  • Media Report That Voter ID Laws Could Suppress 34,000 Trans Voters This Election

    South Florida Gay News: Voter Suppression Affects The “Electoral Impact Of LGBT People, Further Marginalizing All LGBT People,” “Especially Transgender People Of Color”

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Media are reporting that stringent voter ID laws in several states have a harsh impact for transgender voters, who often face barriers to updating their ID documents to reflect their gender and experience harassment and mistreatment as a result. 

  • Fox Report On Low African-American Turnout In North Carolina Ignores GOP Voter Suppression

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News’ Shannon Bream reported on the low early vote totals of the “crucial Democratic voter bloc” of African-Americans in North Carolina but ignored the voter suppression efforts of the Republican Party in North Carolina that include a reduction in early vote hours and fewer polling locations.

    A November 3 report by Shannon Bream during Fox News’ On The Record with Brit Hume highlighted the lower voter turnout by African-Americans in North Carolina so far in 2016 compared to 2012 and 2008. Bream reported the number of African-Americans early voting had fallen by 16 percent.

    But Bream’s report failed to mention the ongoing effort by Republicans in the state to systematically purge voter rolls of African-American voters while also reducing the total number of hours for early voting, cutting the number of polling locations, and reducing the hours available to vote on weekends and evenings.

    A November 3 report from Reuters highlighted the efforts of the North Carolina GOP to suppress Democratic voters by state and county Republican officials who “lobbied members of at least 17 county election boards to keep early-voting sites open for shorter hours on weekends and in evenings – times that usually see disproportionately high turnout by Democratic voters.” Furthermore, Reuters revealed a concerted effort by Republican officials to close polling locations on Sundays, a move that would hamper the North Carolina “Souls to the Polls” efforts in which African-American churchgoers early vote following Sunday services.

    North Carolina residents have also had their voter registrations challenged just weeks before the election due to mail being returned from their addresses as undelivered. In Beaufort County, North Carolina, 138 residents had their registrations challenged – 92 were black and registered Democrats while only 17 were Republicans. The Guardian reported that Democratic-leaning Guilford County, North Carolina, had a 60 percent increase in African-American voters following the opening of additional polling locations last week:

    In Democratic-leaning Guilford County, the state's third largest, a county board of elections meeting on Aug. 8 attracted about 75 people after word spread that the board was planning to halve the number of early voting sites, from 24 in 2012.

    The Rev. Nelson Johnson said in an interview that the proposal by the board's Republican chairwoman would "prevent voting especially by people who can't easily take time off" and said it "absolutely" had a racial intent. Johnson, who is African American, leads a community center in Greensboro, North Carolina.

    […]

    Guilford's plan also included one restriction that particularly angered Democrats. In the first week of early voting in 2012, residents could vote at 16 sites. This year, that has been reduced to one.

    Mary Cranford, 52, a registered Republican, was fourth in line on the first day of early voting in Guilford. She was able to vote but said she was upset that only one site was open for the first week. She said she voted for Clinton this year.

    "I can't believe what's been done to keep some people from voting in this state," she said.

    Just 7,916 people voted in the first week of early voting in Guilford this year, compared to 60,732 in 2012, according to state elections board records.

    The general counsel for Clinton's campaign and other plaintiffs filed a court motion on Oct. 1 demanding Guilford and four other North Carolina counties expand their early voting opportunities. The court denied it, saying that changing the early voting plans “would create logistical difficulties.”

  • Right-Wing Media Revive Discriminatory Effort To Discourage Early Voting

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Several Fox News hosts have recently been critical of early voting, a process that is especially important to voters of color who face systemic barriers to voting on Election Day. Fox hosts baselessly claimed that voters who already took advantage of early voting now want to change their votes and suggested voters “don’t know all of the information” prior to voting, which raises questions about “the wisdom of early voting.” Right-wing media figures’ contempt for early voting is not new.

  • STUDY: MSNBC Provides Exemplary Coverage Of Voter Suppression While Fox Pushes Voter Fraud Myths

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    A Media Matters analysis of cable news prime-time coverage of voter fraud and voter suppression efforts between October 27 and November 2 found that Fox News completely ignored or dismissed voter suppression in this time period while fearmongering about rare and isolated threats of voter fraud. MSNBC dedicated 10 segments to voter suppression and debunking claims of widespread voter fraud, while CNN discussed voter suppression twice and voter fraud once.

    Over the past week, Fox News discussed voter suppression once once, during a November 1 O’Reilly Factor segment (via Nexis) where host Bill O’Reilly and The Five host Kimberly Guilfoyle dismissed concerns of voter intimidation. The two criticized a lawsuit alleging that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign was intimidating voters by calling on supporters to challenge the qualifications of voters at the polls. During the segment, O’Reilly questioned, “How can you intimidate someone after they have already voted?” later calling the lawsuit “a total publicity stunt.” Guilfoyle asked what the “point of the lawsuit” was and asserted that it was “going to fail.”

    In contrast, Fox News devoted two segments to fearmongering about voter fraud, one on The Kelly File and another on The O’Reilly Factor. On the October 27 edition of The Kelly File (via Nexis), Fox’s Trace Gallagher reported on “voting machines flipping votes” in Texas and “a few other states,” alleging that votes for Republicans had been suspiciously flipped to votes for Democrats. NPR also reported on this story but added the context that the likely problem with voting machines is that they are old, that voters “see it happen right in front of them on the voting machine screen” in the “handful” of reports, and that voters can easily fix the error:

    Voters can usually change the selection to the right one before their ballot is cast. If not, they can let a poll worker know there's a problem so they can move to a machine that works. In many places, such machines also have paper ballot backups, if there's ever a question about the vote.

    Trump appeared on the October 27 edition of The O’Reilly Factor (via Nexis), where he alleged that “there are 1.8 million people who are dead who are registered to vote, and some of those people vote.” O’Reilly did ask Trump to provide data or facts on vote flipping in Texas, which Trump could not do: “No, they just call in,” he said, presumably referring to people who have reported that their votes were flipped.

    On MSNBC, however, hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes primarily focused on the threats of voter suppression in the 2016 election, with Maddow’s show covering the topic in every episode over the course of a week and Hayes covering it during four of five episodes of his show All In. Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell covered it once, combining to make a total of 10 discussions on the topic on MSNBC. When the shows covered voter fraud, the hosts always debunked the myth that it is widespread. For example, on the November 1 edition of Maddow’s show, Maddow discussed the controversial Voter Integrity Project in North Carolina, which “famously claimed they had identified 30,000 dead people who were registered to vote” in the state and whose website once ran a piece headlined “Raping the Retard Vote.” Maddow debunked the group's claims, stating:

    RACHEL MADDOW (HOST): That story did get awkward when these supposedly dead people in North Carolina started turning up, raising their hands, talking to the press, making a pretty convincing case that they were, in fact, not dead. They were alive. We hosted an elections official in North Carolina at the time who confessed to us how many man-hours, how much work, how many resources the state was having to put in to chasing down these supposedly 30,000 dead people on the rolls after they got so much press.

    Ultimately, they were not able to find a single instance of voter fraud despite all those headlines. They hadn`t been able to find any real dead people really voting.

    MSNBC’s hosts also noted that many of these voter suppression efforts have a disproportionate impact on minorities. During the October 31 edition of his show (via Nexis), Hayes explained that a North Carolina voter ID law was struck down for “deliberately target[ting] African-Americans with almost surgical precision in an effort to depress and suppress black turnout at the polls.” Hayes noted that the Republican-controlled state and local government there targeted “the means of voting that they know will be disproportionately used by black voters.”

    Although CNN only discussed voter suppression twice, Don Lemon devoted a substantial portion of the November 2 edition of his show (via Nexis), CNN Tonight, to voter suppression in North Carolina and a lawsuit there brought by the NAACP. The lawsuit claimed that the “restrictive voting laws” in the state “are really designed to keep African-Americans from casting their ballots.” Guest Irving Joyner, a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, highlighted the case of 100-year-old Grace Bell Hardison, an African-American woman who was nearly wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls because a postcard the Voter Integrity Project sent her was returned unanswered.

    CNN also had one significant discussion on voter fraud during the October 27 edition of CNN Tonight, where Lemon asked CNN contributor and Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany what was “behind this rigging theme from the Trump campaign.” Lemon pushed back on McEnany’s claims that Obama said “people who are in power tend to tilt things their way,” noting that is “very different than saying the entire system is rigged.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News prime-time (8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) transcripts on Nexis between October 27 and November 2 for the following terms or variations of terms within 50 words of the terms and variations of “vote,” “ballot,” “poll,” and “election”: “suppress,” “intimidate,” “fraud,” “impersonate,” “dead,” “fake,” “watch,” “monitor,” “imposter,” “improper,” “integrity,” “security,” or “switch.” Media Matters counted segments where voter suppression or fraud was the stated topic of conversation or monologue or there was an exchange of two or more people discussing the point in an exchange. These segments do not include mentions of voter suppression relating to voter enthusiasm.