Those fake NRCC mirror web sites violate federal law

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

You have all heard by now about last week's GOP dirty tricks by the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, setting up fake mirror web sites for Democratic candidates. If it's the NRCC, that means the Arizona Daily Star's former political reporter hack and all-around prick Daniel Scarpinato is involved. In fact, the Star gave "The Scarp" gratuitous copy in its reporting on this story. GOP fundraising websites touting Democrats called unethical:

A move by the National Republican Congressional Campaign has local Democrats seeing red over a set of new websites that appear to tout Democrat candidates.

The Republican political committee has created mini-websites for U.S. Reps. Ron Barber, Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema touting their accomplishments and asking for donations.

However, those pulling out their checkbooks with the intent of backing the incumbent Democrats will actually be giving their hard-earned dollars to Republicans.

The tactic isn’t isolated to Arizona, either. The NRCC has created at least a dozen websites in other states similarly targeting other Democrats running for office.

Campaign staffers are calling the slick, one-page websites with their high-resolution photographs of the candidates a cheap political play, designed with only one goal in mind: to trick voters into giving money to Republicans.

NRCC national press secretary Daniel Scarpinato is proud of the mini-websites, saying voters can get information from the Republican-backed websites that is not readily available on the candidates’ sites.

“Any time we can get the truth out to the voters it is a good thing,” he said.

While the website addresses might lure unsuspecting voters, Scarpinato says the Web pages are clearly marked as a product of the NRCC at the bottom of the page.

So why not just publish Scarpinato's press releases as news reports in the Star? Oh wait, you already do.

Barber’s campaign spokesman, Rodd McLeod, said Republicans have no shame in running fraudulent sites.

“They are stooping to a new low,” McLeod said.

Kirkpatrick spokesman D.B. Mitchell agreed, calling the tactic “a new low even for the NRCC.”

Neither campaign was aware of any of their supporters giving money to the fake sites.

Still, Mitchell is leaving the door open to a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

“We haven’t made a decision,” he said.

The campaign feels the websites are in a legal gray area, he said, with any donation clearly benefiting any NRCC-backed candidate running against the three Democrats targeted in Arizona.

So here are some things the Star left out of its reporting. Google actually slapped "phishing" warnings on these fraudulent web sites. Google slaps phishing warning on misleading GOP website.

NRCC_phishing_site

The NRCC at first defended its actions, but is now offering refunds to anyone duped by their fraudulent scheme.

And D.B. Mitchell may want to take note that this is, in fact. a violation of federal law. Paul Ryan — no not that one — Paul Ryan, Senior Counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, posts at the ACSblog, Do Misleading Campaign Websites Violate Federal Law?:

The Los Angeles Times has counted 18 such websites so far, with URLs such as AnnKirkpatrick.com, SinemaForCongress.com and RonBarber2014.com. Ann Kirkpatrick, Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber are all Democratic Members of Congress running for reelection this year. The headlines at the top of these pages read “KIRKPATRICK FOR CONGRESS,” “Kyrsten Sinema for CONGRESS” and “Ron Barber CONGRESS,” respectively. Time has described these websites as “clearly designed to trick the viewer—at least at first—into thinking they’re on a legitimate campaign website.” But these websites aren’t merely part of the underhanded games that typically accompany political campaigns. They also violate federal law.

For decades, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the administrative agency charged with enforcing federal campaign finance laws, has been concerned with efforts by noncandidate political committees (such as party committees like the NRCC and its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) to trick people. Since the late 1970s, federal law, 2 U.S.C. § 432(e)(4), has prohibited any noncandidate political committee from “includ[ing] the name of any candidate in its name.” Initially, the FEC interpreted this statutory prohibition as applying only to the official name a committee registered with the FEC. For example, those who set up independent committees to support Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign were prohibited from using Reagan’s name in their official committee name. Instead, they registered committees with the FEC using names such as “Americans for Change” and “Americans for an Effective Presidency.”

But these groups did use Reagan’s name in the titles, letterheads and return addresses of their direct mail solicitations. The Americans for Change committee, for example, created “Reagan for President in ’80,” sending out direct mail solicitations under this letterhead with postage-paid reply envelopes addressed to that name.

Initially, the FEC determined that such actions did not violate the statutory prohibition because it determined that the statute applied only to the committees’ official names, and not to their fundraising projects. When the FEC’s ruling was challenged, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held in Common Cause v. FEC that the FEC’s interpretation was permissible, but noted that a broader reading of the statute would also be permissible—i.e., one that included not “only the officially registered ‘name’ of the political committee but rather any title under which such a committee holds itself out to the public for solicitation or propagandizing purposes.” Then-Circuit Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg went even further, stating that limiting the statutory prohibition to the official name of the committee “defies common sense and fosters the very confusion Congress sought to prevent.”

By 1992, the FEC came to share Justice Ginsburg’s view and amended its regulations at 11 C.F.R. § 102.14(a) to extend the candidate name prohibition to include not only the official name of the committee, but also “any name under which a committee conducts activities, such as solicitations or other communications, including a special project name or other designation.” The FEC explained that it had “become more concerned about the potential for confusion or abuse when an unauthorized committee uses a candidate’s name in the title of a special fundraising project. A person who receives such a communication may not understand that it is made on behalf the committee rather than the candidate whose name appears in the project’s title.” The Commission further explained that “the potential for confusion is equally great in all types of committee communications,” not merely the official titles.

* * *

Thus, the law is clear: a noncandidate committee may not use the name of a candidate in the committee’s title or in the title of a special project, such as a website, unless the committee opposes that candidate and the title of the website or other communication makes that opposition very clear.

The FEC made clear in a 1995 advisory opinion that the operation of a website constitutes a “special project” for purposes of the candidate name prohibition. Thus, because the NRCC is a noncandidate committee; the new websites are special projects under the law; and the URLs and titles include the names of candidates; the websites clearly fall within the federal law candidate name restrictions, and may only use the name of a candidate in their titles “if the title clearly and unambiguously shows opposition to the named candidate.” But far from doing so, the URLs and titles of these websites contain textbook language indicating support for these candidates—e.g., SinemaForCongress.com. Indeed, the phrases of support used in the website URLs and titles are nearly the same as the examples of express advocacy or support the Supreme Court used in Buckley v. Valeo, such as “Smith for Congress.”

Finally, it is not sufficient, as some have asserted, that a reader who scrutinizes these websites more closely will ultimately recognize that they oppose, rather than support, the candidate named in the title. The FEC regulations make it clear that “the title” must unambiguously indicate such opposition. The regulations thus put the burden on political committees to refrain from creating misleading websites – not on the voting public to sort through intentionally confusing language.

Consequently, these misleading websites violate federal law. The NRCC should take down these websites and the FEC should initiate an enforcement action against the NRCC’s flagrant violations of federal campaign finance law.

The Arizona political media has entirely failed to report that the NRCC mirror web sites are in violation of federal law. Per usual, they want to treat this story as all in good fun. Anything goes in politics. No, it does not you feckless media villagers.

Barber, Kirkpatrick and Sinema should file a complaint with the FEC. (Of course, the FEC has been neutered and rendered impotent in enforcement actions).

One response to “Those fake NRCC mirror web sites violate federal law

  1. Steve Meissner

    Maybe, but IOKIYAR.