Visit the fake GOP “anti-site” of Nick Rahall (D-WV)
What does a political party do when it can’t win on personality and it can’t win on the issues? That’s the problem faced by the Republican Party these days. The most visible Republicans in the last year have been Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, and John Boehner, whose dyspeptic crimson mug grimaced at every positive-sounding notion President Obama uttered during last week’s State of the Union address. To judge from that spectacle, Republicans get queasy at the thought of such radical notions as food stamps and equal pay for women.
Meanwhile, it’s been a truism for many years now that the Republicans have had to overcome perceived deficits on the issues. My favorite example of this came around the 2004 election, when polls revealed that Bush voters (that is, people who liked Bush and his issue set) were prone to attributing positions to Bush himself that were markedly more liberal than anything Bush himself believed. Here, look:
In particular, majorities or Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that he supports multilateral approaches to various international issues, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (69 percent), the land mine treaty (72 percent), and the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (51 percent).
In August, two thirds of Bush supporters also said they believed that Bush supported the International Criminal Court (ICC), although in the latest poll, that figure dropped to a 53 percent majority, even though Bush explicitly denounced the ICC in the most widely watched nationally televised debate of the campaign in late September.
In all of these cases, majorities of Bush supporters said they favored the positions that they imputed, incorrectly, to Bush.
The point is that conservatives frequently have to pretend to hold liberal—or at least moderate—positions in order to win national election. The Democrats currently face little pressure of that sort.
We can argue about which party’s platform has a better purchase on the issues; what’s salient here that the Republicans are the ones behaving as if they have to game the system in order to win. Republican attempts to limit voter participation in the 2012 election were well documented and even, perversely, may have actually contributed to Democratic gains due to the outraged reaction on the part of Democratic constituents, especially black Democrats.
Now there’s a brand new bit of GOP bullshittery to reckon with—Republican websites designed to look like the web presence of Democrats running for Congress. Shane Goldmacher at National Journal caught it in December; Alex Pareene at Salon wrote about it earlier today.
The websites have targeted Amanda Renteria (CA), Martha Roberston (NY), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Domenic Recchia (NY), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Nick Rahall (WV), Alex Sink (FL), and John Tierney (MA), among others. In each case, somebody—presumably the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), but we’ll get to that in a moment—has taken out an apparently “official” pro-candidate website like every candidate for Congress has, except that once you get past the deceptive optics, the content of the site is stridently hostile to the candidate whose name is on the website, and donations are solicited to defeat the candidate. (I know just what you’re thinking: At least it didn’t say, “Click here to donate to the candidate!” with the money getting funneled to his or her opponent. Although from a semiotic point of view, it kinda does say that.)
Visit the fake GOP “anti-site” of Martha Robertson (D-NY)
As to the authorship: if you look at, say, http://martha-robertson.com, you’ll see at the bottom the following text: “Contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee are not deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes. Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. www.nrcc.org.” If you click on “Donate” (just above the text “Fed up with Martha Robertson? – Sign up Today”), you are directed to https://www.nrcc.org/martha-robertson-congress/contribute/, where, confusingly, underneath a decently sized banner that says “Martha Robertson for Congress,” the text asks you to “Make a contribution today to help defeat Martha Robertson and candidates like her.” It’s unlikely that an imposter (i.e. not the NRCC) would be able to concoct a page at the NRCC website.
The headline and subhead of Goldmacher’s article is “Republican Look-Alike Sites Mocking Democrats May Violate Rules / Could targeted Democrats get the last laugh when it comes to anti-candidate microsites?” Goldmacher quoted Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog group, to the effect that the websites constitute a violation of election law: “This doesn’t even strike me as a close call. It’s a slam dunk.” Additionally, Goldmacher similarly cited Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the FEC and now the head of a bipartisan Americans for Campaign Reform: “Part of their attempt is to sow confusion and draw people there who would be looking for the candidate’s website. All the candidate has is their name.” One of the problems with the Federal Election Commission is that their investigations are measured in years, not weeks. By the time they administer a ruling, the damage has already been done.
Visit the fake GOP “anti-site” of Domenic Recchia (D-NY)
Pareene says that the Republicans have taken out Google Ads intended to direct Internet users to the fake sites:
As of now, there are at least six of these fake sites, all promoted with Google ads to make them appear at the very top of searches, with that barely legible yellow background (denoting paid links) that Google hopes you don’t notice. At least one person accidentally donated to the RNC while intending to donate to a Democratic candidate. The NRCC agreed to refund his donation, but obviously people who never realize they were tricked won’t ask for refunds. It may not be quite Nixonian, but yes, solid dirty trick, NRCC.
My attempts to generate these Google Ads on Google did not meet with success, which suggests at least the possibility that Google itself has intervened.
Curiously, the NRCC isn’t even bothering to deny the charges—it’s bragging about the technique. Last September Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia, deputy chairman of the NRCC, bragged in a fundraising pitch to donors:
We ruined three Democrats’ campaign launches last week and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (Pelosi’s campaign machine) couldn’t be more upset.
1. Democrat John Lewis announced he was running for Congress in Montana, but we bought JohnLewis4Congress.com beforehand and have made sure that anyone who searches for him online ends up visiting our site instead.
The Democrats didn’t see that coming. In fact, they were so caught off-guard that Lewis still doesn’t have his own campaign website up yet!
2. We also did this to the Democratic candidate in West Virginia’s 3rd District with NickRahallForCongress.com.
3. Last but not least, we beat the Democrats to the punch by buying EldridgeForCongress2014.com before Sean Eldridge even launched his own campaign! The Democrats desperately want to win back New York’s 19th Congressional District but thanks to this it’s not going well.
The Republicans have been behaving like a a goon squad for quite a few years now. We don’t have to rehash every step of the way since the Monica Lewinsky coup/impeachment and Bush-Gore 2000 to be confident in the truth of that assessment. There will come a day when even conservatives try to win on the issues. But it looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that day.
I couldn’t find any video on this yet, but here’s a similar story from 2012 with no apparent partisan value, in which regular scammers imitated the official web presences of the two major parties for a much more basic reason: greed.