A warning this election season: If you are searching the Web for information on Democratic congressional candidates, read the fine print.
At least 15 websites that appear to be official campaign sites for Democratic candidates, are actually the handiwork of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In an effort to improve their online efforts this election season, the NRCC’s digital team came up with what the group believes is a great idea: get out the Republican message through fake Democrat sites.
“The idea is people who are looking for information on the candidate, one of the places we all go now is online and so this is a way for folks to find out more about the candidates and information they may not find on the candidate’s own site,” said Daniel Scarpinato, the NRCC’s press secretary.
The NRCC bought up hundreds of URLs on potential weak Democratic candidates and created sites that mimic the real ones.
It may sound deceiving, but Scarpinato insists the well-thought out, well-planned program is pure genius.
”Well, we are very proud of this program.”
Montana Democratic congressional candidate John Lewis has a different opinion.
Lewis is one of the Democrats who Republicans have targeted with their own site called JohnLewis4congress.com.
”I have seen a lot of unfortunate uses of deception in the last few elections,” Lewis told CNN. “This is just another in a long list of that.”
Lewis said Montana voters will be able to “see right through a website that is based on deception.” Still he bemoans what he calls outside interests backed by “dark money” trying to trick voters in his state.
Scarpinato at the NRCC says there are no tricks at all and disputes anyone’s claim that the sites are deceptive.
“I think that sites are clear in terms of the disclosure and the content where were coming from,” Scarpinato said. “And I also think it’s important for voters to get all the perspectives on the candidates. So just as a candidate is going to put information out about themselves, we’re going to put out information about the candidate that they are not putting out that we think is important for voters to know.”
And to do that, the National Republican Congressional Campaign says it will expand its building of fake sites.
Do Democrats do it, too?
The NRCC press secretary told us the Republican strategy is cleverer, but that Democrats have done the same thing.
One day after CNN’s interview Scarpinato directed CNN to a site mocking a Republican built by the Florida State Democratic Party, which the national Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee insists it had nothing to do with.
In a statement to CNN, the DCCC wrote, “It is not the DCCC’s practice to make websites that could be confused with the opponents site.”
Undeterred, the National Republican Congressional Committee thinks it has a winner and will create more fake websites as the 2014 midterm elections draw near.