CNN is reporting today that Republicans may have found a new way to cheat in the 2014 elections: Twitter.
The CNN story says that outside groups used Twitter accounts to share internal polling data with Republican campaigns. Under campaign finance laws, coordination between political campaigns and outside groups such as super PACs is illegal. CNN says a source told them that the Twitter accounts were publicly available, but the information in them was meaningless unless you knew how to decode it. Polling data is important because it tells PACs, non-profits, and campaign committees, where they should and shouldn’t be spending their money and other resources.
Paul S. Ryan (not related to the congressman), who works for a non-partisan organization called the Campaign Legal Center, which focuses on campaign finance, tells CNN that the tweets fall into a murky area of the law.
It’s a line that has not been defined. This is really on the cutting edge. It might not be legal. It’s a cutting edge practice that, to my knowledge, the Federal Election Commission has never before addressed to explicitly determine its legality or permissibility.
CNN’s Chris Moody, who wrote the story, says that he contacted the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) to ask them some questions about the accounts, and the accounts were deleted literally minutes afterwards. Moody says that representatives for the NRCC, American Crossroads, and American Action Network declined requests for comment.
The code is the key
Kenneth Gross, who was once the head of the Federal Election Commission’s enforcement division, tells CNN that the fact that the tweets were in code may be an indication of coordination between campaigns and groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
If it truly requires some sort of Ovaltine decoder ring to make heads or tails of the information, then there certainly is the possibility that there was some pre-arrangement. Just making it public is not enough. You have to further meet the requirement of no pre-arrangement or coordination. But it is the burden of the government to demonstrate that.
This is not the first time one party or the other has used Twitter to communicate with outside groups. But, CNN says, this is the first time that the Twitter accounts didn’t identify their connection to the groups that posted to them. They also did not publicize that the accounts even existed, which is a very strange practice for social media.
Here’s the video, courtesy of CNN: