The Republican Governors Association, chaired by Wisconsin's Scott Walker, created a fake news operation to help them rig elections. And now they've been caught.
The Republican Party is now officially in the fake news business.
The party created a fake news site designed to confuse millions of voters so that the party could win elections in multiple states. The operation was exposed by reporters working for the Associated Press who dug into "The Free Telegraph" and found out that it was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Governors Association (RGA).
The RGA is the operation tasked with electing Republicans to be the governors, and to keep currently elected Republican governors in place. The RGA has been a vital tool for the right in keeping conservative governors in power, like Wisconsin's Scott Walker, New Jersey's Chris Christie, Maine's Paul LePage, and Ohio's John Kasich.
Walker is the current chairman of the group, and would have likely had to sign off on the fake news operation. Walker is infamous for his multiple efforts over the years to suppress the vote, with aggressive and discriminatory ID legislation, and other voter suppression tactics, which federal courts have overturned.
Since Walker's efforts have largely failed in the courts, spreading propaganda dressed up as news would certainly be another way of trying to sway the vote for Republicans.
The Free Telegraph promotes positive stories about Republican governors while publishing smears designed to hurt Democratic governors and gubernatorial candidates. The site did not disclose that it was an operation of the RGA.
"Only after The Associated Press inquired about the site last week was a disclosure added to The Free Telegraph’s pages identifying the publication’s partisan source," the AP reported.
Among the races the RGA's Free Telegraph is trying to rig are elections taking place in 2017 that could be embarrassing losses for Republicans. The Free Telegraph has smears up attacking Phil Murphy, who has a massive double-digit lead in current polling for governor of New Jersey. Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, is also benefitting from the Free Telegraph while he contends with a strong campaign run by Democrat Ralph Northam.
A Republican communications guru and former staffer for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign told the AP that the site is "propaganda for sure."
Angelo Carusone of Media Matters for America told the AP, "They are repackaging their opposition research so it’s there as ‘news,’ and at any moment that publication could become the defining moment of the narrative" in a campaign.
The fake news operation is also ironic as it coincides with Donald Trump's ongoing false claims that legitimate news outlets like CNN and The New York Times are "fake news."
The Free Telegraph's social media accounts simply identify it as a source of "political news," without admitting that it is a party outlet.
This isn't the first time Republicans have created fake news to hold on to their power.
In 2014, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) created a network of fake news sites boosting congressional candidates and attacking their Democratic rivals for about two dozen different races. That deceptive operation helped Republicans to increase their hold on the House and Senate, even though they had lost the presidential election just two years before.
The RGA's Free Telegraph shows that despite Trump's rhetoric, Republicans are more than happy to indulge in fake news, if it means they can rig an election in their favor.