Elections

Issues ››› Elections
  • HuffPost: Data Analytics Firm Tied To Trump And Bannon Threatening To Sue Guardian After Paper Investigated Links To Brexit

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On May 17, HuffPost reported that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica -- principally owned by Republican Party megadonor Robert Mercer -- has threatened to sue U.K. newspaper The Guardian for publishing “a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.” Mercer is also an ally of President Donald Trump and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

    The Washington Post reported in October 2016 that Cambridge Analytica was paid “millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” for its data analytics program. The program used “a psychological model for identifying voters that can ‘determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America’” by using “up to 5,000 pieces of data” per adult. According to at least three Republican strategists, the Trump campaign brought the firm onboard at the urging of Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Bannon was vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board at the time, and The New York Times reported in March that he “had a stake in the company that he valued at $1 million to $5 million, which he plans to sell.” Federal Election Commission reports also indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to Cambridge Analytica were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The firm has no publicly listed address in California.

    According to HuffPost’s May 17 report, Cambridge Analytica’s attorneys sent The Guardian a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation” after writer Carole Cadwalladr reported that the firm and its British affiliate “tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns … hadn’t disclosed a partnership” and potentially violated British election law. According to The Guardian’s Sunday edition, The Observer, Cambridge Analytica said that the reporting “contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients,” also alleging that the newspaper was “conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage.” From the report:

    Cambridge Analytica, a U.S. data analytics firm backed by Robert Mercer, and its British affiliate, SCL Elections Limited, have threatened to sue The Guardian following a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

    On Wednesday, The Guardian informed staff that the firms had threatened legal action and it added a disclaimer to more than a half-dozen articles and editorials, including “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” and “Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit” from February and this month’s “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked.” 

    “These articles are the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited,” the disclaimer reads.

    [...]

    The aforementioned articles were written by Carole Cadwalladr, who reported Sunday that two data firms tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns, Cambridge Analytica and Canada’s AggregateIQ, hadn’t disclosed a partnership, a possible violation of British election law. The firms denied such a relationship.

    That most recent line of inquiry appeared to especially rankle Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, as Cadwalladr tweeted that the firms’ lawyers approached the paper on Saturday.

    Cadwalladr said the firms’ attorneys, Squire, Patton & Boggs, sent the paper a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation.”

    And the firms’ displeasure with Cadwalladr’s reporting was made clear in the article, which was published in The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday newspaper.

    Lawyers for Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections wrote to the Observer on Saturday to complain about our previous stories, which they said contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients. They said we were conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage. They said their clients have done no wrong, broken no laws and breached no one’s rights and had not been part of a ‘shadowy’ or unlawful campaign to subvert British democracy or dupe the British public.

  • Megadonor Super PAC Parrots Media Spin To Attack Georgia’s Jon Ossoff For Out-Of-State Donations

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Republican-aligned super PAC released an attack ad against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running for an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, that hypes a media-fueled smear focusing on his out-of-state donations. But the ad comes from a group that relies on big-money donations, most from donors outside of Georgia.

    The Congressional Leadership Fund released an attack ad on May 9 targeting Ossoff, who is running to fill the vacant seat in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. The ad, according to Roll Call, “draws attention to the out-of-state money that has boosted Ossoff.”

    The ad echoes similar smears made by both President Donald Trump, who slammed Ossoff for raising “major outside money,” and media figures who adopted Trump’s spin and glossed over Ossoff’s primary victory by highlighting his out-of-state donations.

    But the Congressional Leadership Fund itself takes millions of dollars from major right-wing campaign donors like the Adelson family as well as dark money groups like the American Action Network. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pointed out that the American Action Network, an “out of state dark money” nonprofit, “contributed $3.5 million to its ‘sister’ super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund.” The PAC used over $2.5 million of that money, according to CREW, in an attempt to defeat Ossoff.

    In the 2016 election cycle, the biggest donors to the Congressional Leadership Fund -- which The Atlanta Journal Constitution described as “a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan” -- included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who own the Las Vegas Review-Journal; Republican mega donor Paul Singer; and investor Charles Schwab. Additionally, according to the group’s pre-special election Federal Election Commission filing report, which details contributions to the PAC up until March 29, it has received only one contribution from an organization or person in the state of Georgia -- Southern Company Services, an electric and power distribution company based in Atlanta, GA, that operates “fossil fuel generating plants.” Most of the big money donations to the PAC leading up to the special election came from the American Action Network, major corporations like the oil and gas company Chevron and Geo Corrections, a for-profit prison firm based in Florida, and Republican megadonors, such as Thomas McInerney.

    In addition, despite the portrait painted by the misleading ad, many of the donations in the race overall have come from outside of Georgia and have primarily gone toward opposing Ossoff. As The Center for Public Integrity noted, ahead of the April primary, Republican-aligned super PACs had spent $5.8 million dollars opposing Ossoff or about 65 percent of all non-candidate spending. In addition, “just one of [the] outside groups spending money to influence the Georgia 6th election ... is headquartered within state lines" and it supported Ossoff to the tune of $1,070 in total. The Center for Public Integrity noted that Ossoff's opponent, Karen Handle, has also taken in outside funds and that "23 percent of Republican candidate Karen Handel's big dollar contributions -- more than $200 per donor -- came from out of state sources."

  • Fake News And The "Alt-Right" Are Pushing Forged Documents To Aid Marine Le Pen In France's Election

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Forged documents originating on 4chan alleging that French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes spread online thanks to an ecosystem that includes social media, “alt-right” outlets, and fake news purveyors. The campaign was seemingly aided by Russian-linked entities, and it subsequently reached Macron’s opponent, who aired the claim in a public debate.

    Macron is competing in a May 7 runoff against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. On May 3, hours before a scheduled debate between Macron and Le Pen, an anonymous user on 4chan posted documents purporting to show that Macron used a shell company to dodge taxes. Users on the forum responded that the documents should be sent to “independent journalists” and “the alternative media” like “Cernovic (sic), Breitbart, and so on,” and encouraged each other to “spam” the documents “on social media” such as Twitter to get “it trending.” They also said to “send it to Le Pen.” The documents soon spread on Twitter, with many of the Twitter accounts promoting them appearing to have connections to Russia, according to a Belgian researcher. The claim was promoted by “alt-right” media figures such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

    That these figures would attempt to smear Le Pen’s opponent is not surprising given that Le Pen is widely admired by much of the “alt-right” and closely tied with Russia.

    Along with Twitter, 4chan’s campaign was picked up by forums on 8chan and Reddit; “alt-right” fringe outlets The Gateway Pundit, Got News, Zero Hedge, and Daily Stormer; and fake news purveyor Before It’s News.

    The 4chan-based documents eventually reached Le Pen herself. During her debate with Macron, she said, “I hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.” Le Pen later backed down on her claim, and Macron filed a legal complaint against her for the statement. Multiple outlets have reported that the documents were fake, with The Telegraph noting that they were “widely denounced as crude forgeries.” Additionally, following Le Pen's accusation, the French prosecutor's office has opened an investigation regarding “suspicions of fake news being spread to influence Sunday's presidential vote.”

    The case is yet another example of the way the misinformation ecosystem involving the “alt-right” and fake news purveyors amplifies fringe falsities and lies (and even Kremlin-connected conspiracy theories). The network has often succeeded in pushing those false claims into more traditional conservative and mainstream outlets and, thus, the public realm.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh

  • After Enabling Trump, Right-Wing Media Campaign For Marine Le Pen

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    United States right-wing media figures have rallied behind “far-right populist” Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election by endorsing her, positively comparing her to President Donald Trump, and attacking her opponent Emmanuel Macron with anti-Semitic smears and comparisons to former President Barack Obama.

  • Right-Wing Media Misinterpret North Carolina Post-Election Audit To Fearmonger About Voter Fraud

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media are citing a North Carolina statewide audit of votes cast in the 2016 election to stir fears of widespread voter fraud. The audit itself, however, found that ineligible votes “represented a small fraction of the 4.8 million ballots cast” and found no evidence of rampant voter fraud in North Carolina, conclusions that align with other studies that have also found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

  • Media Figures Adopt Trump’s Spin To Whitewash Ossoff’s Showing In Special Election Primary

    Reports On Ossoff’s Fundraising Ignore Advantage Republicans Have From Outside Spending

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Following the special election primary for a vacant House seat in Georgia, media figures are repeating President Donald Trump’s spin highlighting out-of-state donations that helped Democrat Jon Ossoff. The focus on Ossoff’s fundraising, however, ignores the disproportionate advantage the Republican Party and Republican candidates got from outside groups in the race.