A CNN report has highlighted an astounding, fascinating and depressing new use of Twitter: to skirt election law that prohibits campaigns from coordinating directly with outside groups.
Election law prohibits direct coordinating between outside spending groups and SuperPACs with campaigns. Technically, however, there is nothing that stops information from being shared in public – like on Twitter. And that appears to be exactly what happened: tweets with internal polling information were sent out. They were
“hidden in plain sight,” as profile was public, but only a few people had access to the accounts, which no one could have found otherwise. Among those who had access: two outside groups (American Crossroads and American Action Network) and the National Republican Campaign Committee. None of those groups would comment for the CNN story, and the Twitter accounts in question were deleted shortly after CNN first looked into them (that was absurdly stupid – it pretty much served as an admission of guilt, and whoever deleted the Twitter accounts had to know that the screen shots were out there).
The tweets appear to be in gibberish listing the state, poll results and Congressional district, but no matching data to show what questions the poll was answering. This would imply that coordination was necessary in order to understand the data, and that, of course, would be a violation of campaign finance rules. Still, the entire incident underscores the need for laws to be updated for social media.
I think the entire issue was best summed up in a tweet by the Vice Chair of the FEC, Ann Ravel:
As noted by the Christian Science Monitor, this isn’t the first time that issues like this have been raised this election cycle:
In April, Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to “subvert campaign finance laws” when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s official Twitter accounts posted messages that Democratic super PACs later incorporated into their ads, CNN reported.
As far as I am concerned, this is a clear violation of the spirit of the law: outside coordination is occurring. If coordination was required to understand the polling data, how could anyone not argue that campaign coordination occurred, thus violating the law? This seems like a pretty clear violation to me.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this issue has occurred – and its won’t be the last. Loopholes in the law will always exist, and Citizens United drove a truck through many of the meager separations that still exist.
And, don’t forget, you can now buy my book: Tweets & Consequences:60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avert a Career-Ending Mistake