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Right-Wing Firm With Ties to Charlie Kirk Posed as Leftist Group to Divide Dems

A digital marketing firm closely linked to the pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA was responsible for a series of deceptive Facebook ads promoting Green party candidates during the 2018 US midterm elections in an apparent attempt to split the Democratic vote in a number of close races. The ads purported to come from an organization called America Progress Now (APN) and used socialist memes and rhetoric to urge leftwing voters to support Green party candidates.

Facebook was aware of the true identity of the advertiser and the deceptive nature of the ads, but the company determined that it did not violate its policies. The conservative marketing firm called itself “Rally Forge”, and went on to set up a pro-Trump domestic “troll farm” for Turning Point Action, a “sister” organization of Turning Point USA, in 2020, earning a permanent ban from Facebook. Turning Point is led by right-wing stooge Charlie Kirk, a favorite target of Twitter’s for his many gaffes as he continues to support Trump.

[Photo by Megan JELINGER / AFP via Getty Images)
A right-wing political marketing firm that ran a $350,000 pro-Trump Super Pac in the 2016 election, Rally Forge was founded and run by Jake Hoffman, an Arizona Republican who was at the time a member of the town council in Queen Creek, Arizona. In November 2020 Hoffman was elected to serve in the Arizona state legislature.

The revelation that the ads were linked to a right-wing organization raises questions about the Federal Election Commission’s enforcement of campaign finance laws. In 2018, APN and its ads appeared to violate federal laws that require independent expenditures to be filed with the FEC and include proper disclosures on advertisements. The non-partisan campaign finance watchdog group Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint against APN and subsequently sued the agency in an attempt to force it to investigate the group. But in July 2020, the FEC voted to dismiss allegations that America Progress Now had violated federal law, after an individual, Evan Muhlstein, took responsibility for the ads and attributed the lack of proper disclosures and filings to his “inexperience”.

It is illegal to knowingly make false or fraudulent statements to federal agencies, and the FEC appears to have taken Muhlstein at his word that the ads were a sincere but novice attempt to support Green party candidates.

The full deep dive is available via The Guardian.

 



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