An Alabama attorney spoke with Big League Politics and explained how Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) benefitted from the social media hucksters at American Engagement Technologies to defeat Judge Roy Moore in the 2017 special election, breaking Alabama law in process.
“The advertisement section of [Fair Campaign Practices] Act (FCPA) requires accurate disclosure of campaign ads, including social media,” former Alabama criminal defense attorney Johnny Davis told Big League Politics.
Davis, who now runs an international and Constitutional law consulting firm in the state, knew Moore during Moore’s tenure as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
As reported, Silicon Valley billionaire and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman donated $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies, a firm run by a former Google employee named Mickey Dickerson.
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That firm distributed $100,000 of that money to a cybersecurity firm called New Knowledge, run by Jonathon Morgan. Morgan used the cash to flood Moore’s Twitter account with apparent Russian bots in an effort to connect the campaign to Russian “meddling” in the 2016 presidential election. He also created Facebook pages intended to cause strife between Republicans in Alabama and split the vote between Moore and a write-in candidate.
Moore lost the election by a mere 21,000 votes.
Alabama’s Attorney General Steve Marshall is looking into this fraudulent activity, but has not yet opened an official investigation into the matter.
So, is this practice illegal? According to Davis, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”
Davis said that the FCPA clearly spells out the rules for social media advertising, and that a campaign must make it clear when advertising on social media that who is funding the ads. According to Davis, Project Birmingham’s creation of opposition Facebook pages and apparently-Russian Twitter bots constitute advertising against the Moore campaign. But the actions were never disclosed as an opposition gimmick meant to take down the Moore campaign.
Morgan has denied running working in conjunction with the opposing campaign, describing his actions as “research.” But Morgan did influence the campaign via his verified Twitter account which has more than 10,000 followers, when he posted a Tweet linking Moore to Russia:
— Jonathon Morgan (@jonathonmorgan) November 10, 2017
This Tweet send the media into a hysterical Russian “collusion” craze. When the New York Times originally reported on Morgan’s activities, it characterized them as an “experiment.” But BuzzFeed called that characterization into question in a Dec. 27 report.
“A copy of a confidential report about the Alabama effort, obtained by BuzzFeed News, raises new questions about whether the project was — as the Times said — an ‘experiment,’ or whether it was a straightforward Democratic attempt to replicate the model of the Russian Internet Research Agency,” BuzzFeed said.
Scott Shane, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times national security reporter, was one of a handful of speakers at a meeting held in Washington in early September by American Engagement Technologies, according to an agenda obtained by BuzzFeed News. AET is run by Mikey Dickerson, who previously served in the Obama administration. The organization received $750,000 in funding that originated with Hoffman and spent approximately $100,000 of that on what was dubbed “Project Birmingham.”
During the meeting, Dickerson and Sara Hudson, a former Justice Department employee who now works for a company partly funded by Hoffman, detailed the results of their attempt to use social media and online ads to suppress Republican votes, “enrage” Democratic voters to help with turnout, and execute a “false flag” to hurt the campaign of Republican Roy Moore.
The Birmingham Project report states that between September and December of 2017 the group “ran a digital messaging operation to influence the outcome of the AL senate race.” It claims the effort contributed to high Democratic turnout and a drop in Republican turnout, and says that it “drove write-in votes to a number of candidates.” On one page it says its “sustained targeting” of Republican voters “had enormous effect” on turnout, though it does not back this up with relevant data.
Naturally, Jones has attempted to distance himself from Project Birmingham.
“Illegal influence operations are a serious threat to our democracy, regardless of where these activities originate or who they seek to support,” he said.
“Any coordination with these illegal activities will make the Jones campaign subject to both lawsuit and criminal prosecution,” Davis told BLP.
Follow Peter D’Abrosca on Twitter: @pdabrosca