A liberal billionaire who funded an organization that falsely portrayed Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore as being supported by the Russian government has apologized.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, donated millions to Democrat groups during the last election cycle, but one of those groups, American Engagement Technologies (AET), ran a disinformation campaign that linked Moore to the Kremlin. AET is run by former Obama appointee Mikey Dickerson and received $750,000 from Hoffman.
“I find the tactics that have been recently reported highly disturbing. For that reason, I am embarrassed by my failure to track AET – the organization I did support – more diligently as it made its own decisions to perhaps fund projects that I would reject,” Hoffman wrote in a post on Medium.
“I want to be unequivocal: there is absolutely no place in our democracy for manipulating facts or using falsehoods to gain political advantage,” he added.
AET then used Facebook and Twitter to support Democrat Doug Jones and undermine Roy Moore by attempting to persuade conservatives to vote for someone other than the Republican candidate, according to The Washington Post. The disinformation campaign was called Project Birmingham. Documents from a Washington, D.C. meeting about electoral tactics were provided to the Post.
“One Project Birmingham tactic described in the document claimed backers had created false online evidence that a network of Russian automated accounts, called bots, were supporting Moore. In his statement, Hoffman called this report ‘the most disturbing aspect’ of the disinformation effort. This and some other key details were first reported in the New York Times,” the Post reported.
AET, according to Hoffman, provided funding to a firm called New Knowledge, which is run by Jonathon Morgan. Morgan has acknowledged that his firm used disinformation tactics on a small scale in Alabama but has denied any involvement in the larger campaign mentioned by the Post and the Times.
"I did not participate in any campaign to influence the public," Morgan tweeted, according to Fox News. He said the goals of his project did not involve supporting Doug Jones.
Hoffman and Jones both now support an investigation into the tactics used in the Alabama senate race, which Jones won by 22,000 votes.
“We cannot permit dishonest campaign tactics to go unchecked in our democracy — no matter which side they purportedly help,” Hoffman wrote.
Jones told Fox News in a statement that he was “outraged” over the tactics of the Hoffman-funded group.
“I'd like to see the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department look at this to see if there were any laws being violated and, if there were, prosecute those responsible,” he told the network. “These authorities need to use this example right now to start setting the course for the future to let people know that this is not acceptable in the United States of America.”
Hoffman added that he will now implement new policies determining how he and his politics team vet investments and oversee those organizations.
An internal report from the project funded by Hoffman admitted, “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” according to a copy reviewed by the Times. The report also boasted about “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal” by using “many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”