GOP Accused of Illegal Coordination Over Twitter, No One Really Cares

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The world of politics is changing, and quickly. Between technology and the current state of campaign finance laws, the political landscape looks very different than it did just a few years ago. We’re starting to see the backlash of those changes now, and the noticeable difficulty of laws keeping up with all these changes. The actions of the GOP on Twitter in the recent midterm elections are in one of those murky gray legal areas at the intersection of campaign finance and technology.

CNN discovered that GOP campaigns had set up fake Twitter accounts during the midterms that spewed gibberish. For most of us, such a sight would indicate that there was some sort of spam account at work, and we would ignore it. But according to CNN, that gibberish could be decoded–and the decoded messages were internal polling data. Ostensibly, an outside group, such as a PAC, could look at that message, decode it, and figure out which campaigns were in need of an extra monetary push.

The thing about Twitter is that it’s pretty easy to hide in plain site. If all you’re doing is tweeting out gibberish, the only good way to find you is to search for the gibberish, or to search for the user. Interestingly, the GOP was quite glib about some of these accounts–one was named after Bruno Gianelli. West Wing fans will recognize him as a political campaign operative who was in favor of using soft money to get the President re-elected.

Current campaign finance laws allow outside groups to work on behalf of candidates, as long as they don’t explicitly coordinate with candidates’ campaigns. So the question that no one can really seem to answer is whether or not these Twitter accounts were legal. Given that they were public accounts–although very difficult to decipher public accounts–they don’t really seem like behind-closed-doors coordination that the FEC attempts to prevent.

The consensus seems to be that they’re probably not completely legal, but no one really cares enough to do anything. It appears that maybe-coordination like this is sort of like the jaywalking of election season. Everyone does it, probably, but no one’s really going to get caught. Daniel Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State’s law school said:

It may bend common sense, but not necessarily the law. A lot of things you and I would consider coordination are not coordination under the law. I don’t think sharing polling data is going to be enough to establish that the campaign was materially involved in decisions about content, target audience or timing.

This isn’t a one-sided issue, either. Both political parties have tried using technology to get around campaign finance coordination laws, and both parties have been accused of foul play. The FEC probably isn’t going to do anything about it, and that’s fine, but as the rules surrounding campaign finance in general change so drastically, there’s a need for our rules to progress along with them.


Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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