GOP Secret Illegal Twitter Accounts. Here's How They Worked.

by
Suzanne Robertson
CNN exclusive report shows how the GOP used Twitter to stretch election laws.

Would you be able to understand a tweet reading "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s."

Probably not - and that's exactly what the GOP wants. 

Gibberish posts like that actually represented polling data for various House races a CNN exclusive investigation found. The tweets violate a law that says outside groups, like super PACs and non-profits, can spend freely on political causes as long as they don't coordinate their plans with campaigns. 

Sharing costly internal polls in private, for instance, could signal to the campaign committees where to focus resources. 

The groups behind the public Twitter accounts that posted the secret information had a sense of humor. One Twitter account was named after Bruno Gianelli, a character in the West Wing television series who pressed his colleagues to use ethically questionable "soft money" to fund campaigns.

Posting the information on Twitter, which is public, is on it's face illegal but could actually be operating through a loophole to the law. 

"It's a line that has not been defined. This is really on the cutting edge," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization focused on campaigns and finance. "It might not be legal. It's a cutting edge practice that, to my knowledge, the Federal Election Commission has never before addressed to explicitly determine its legality or permissibility."

Chris Moody, the CNN Senior Digital Correspondent, emailed spokespeople for the NRCC and other groups after he got wind of the Twitter communication. Within minutes all of the accounts were deleted. 

Representatives for American Crossroads, American Action Network and the NRCC declined repeated requests for comment. CNN captured screenshots of the Twitter communications before contacting the parties involved.

The Twitter operation underscores the uncertain state of campaign finance rules after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision upended limits on outside spending in politics. 

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