NRCC Screen Shot

A screen shot of an NRCC-created website meant to look like a local news site.(National Republican Congressional Committee)

By Shane Goldmacher
August 12, 2014

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources.

The NRCC has created about two dozen of these new faux news sites targeting Democrats, both challengers and incumbents, and is promoting them across the country with localized Google search ads.

The NRCC’s single-page sites are designed to appear to be a local news portal, with logos like “North County Update” or “Central Valley Update.” The articles begin in the impartial voice of a political fact-checking site, hoping to lure in readers. “We’ll take a look at her record and let you decide,” starts one. Then they gradually morph into more biting language. At the very bottom, in a box, is the disclaimer that the NRCC paid for the site.

“This is a new and effective way to disseminate information to voters who are interested in learning the truth about these Democratic candidates,” said Andrea Bozek, communications director for the NRCC.

Political strategists on both sides of the aisle say voters have generally grown weary and dubious of political attacks that are accompanied by dark clouds and ominous music. Wrapping an attack in the innocuous language of fact-checking, then, makes it more likely to sink in.

“We believe this is the most effective way to present information to leave a lasting impact on voters,” said Bozek, who declined to say how much the NRCC was spending to promote the sites. The online ad spending, being done by the NRCC’s independent expenditure arm, must eventually be disclosed but likely only in the aggregate.

Democrats say it’s telling that Republicans are repeatedly resorting to deceptive tactics to push their political agenda. “These sites say more about the NRCC’s own toxicity and desperation than anything else,” said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic strategist who previously worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The NRCC’s online push comes despite the blowback the committee received for the look-alike Democratic sites, which prompted a complaint from a watchdog group to the Federal Election Commission. Under public pressure, the NRCC changed the design of those sites to make it clearer that contributors were sending their money to the House GOP campaign arm and not the Democratic candidates whose pictures appeared on the page.

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