Disgraced Democratic Lawyer Marc Elias Represents Fake News Operation Targeting Swing States

Elias commissioned the infamous Steele dossier for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016

Marc Elias (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
July 8, 2024

The Democratic superlawyer behind the Trump-Russia collusion hoax has entered the "fake news" foray once again, this time on behalf of a mysterious media company that publishes partisan articles designed to look like legitimate news stories.

Elias Law Group, the firm of Marc Elias, represents an outfit called Star Spangled Media in a battle with Arizona campaign finance regulators over the activities of its website, the Morning Mirror. The site recently started running Facebook ads touting Democratic state candidates in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other battleground states, according to Semafor.

Under its banner for "local" news, the Morning Mirror touts the success of one Democrat after another on "reproductive rights"—with articles such as "Rep. Denise Mentzer Touts Strong Support for Defending Reproductive Rights in Michigan" and "Rep. Nate Shannon, Supporter of Abortion Rights, Endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan." The site publishes other seemingly non-political stories, such as "What Are the Benefits of SPF," a pro-sunscreen story, and "Lefties of Baseball," about the "phenomenon" of left-handed pitchers in America's pastime.

It is unclear who funds Star Spangled Media, but the operation marks an emerging trend for Democrats. Party donors have poured millions of dollars into websites such as Courier Newsroom and States Newsroom, which promote liberal causes and Democratic candidates in articles designed to look like legitimate news stories. The organizations in turn use the articles in social media ads that do not outwardly disclose the Democratic source of funding.

Elias's advocacy for fake news may come as no surprise. As an attorney for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, he commissioned the infamous Steele dossier, which falsely accused then-candidate Donald Trump of colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election. The Federal Election Commission later fined the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee for falsely listing Elias's work as "legal expenses" rather than opposition research.

In response to Arizona regulators, Elias Law Group argues Star Spangled Media is a legitimate commercial news organization that should be exempt from having to disclose its activities to campaign finance regulators.

But several Democratic operatives are involved in the Morning Mirror's operations, according to Semafor. The Morning Mirror website leaves some clues about who operates the organization. The site's source code shows it was created by the creative director of SBDigital, a progressive digital advertising firm that has worked for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and a number of state Democratic committees. An author of several Morning Mirror stories is César Vargas-Torrico, a former press assistant to Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) who now works at the firm Petkanas Strategies. Zac Petkanas, the owner of the firm, has been an adviser to the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Elias has represented a number of controversial clients. He worked for Sen. Robert Menendez during both of the New Jersey Democrat's corruption scandals and has represented the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation and a super PAC secretly funded by convicted fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried.

Star Spangled Media and Elias Law Group did not respond to requests for comment.