Senate Dems Get Boost From Operatives Linked To Disinfo Scandals

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) / Getty Images
April 27, 2022

Three vulnerable Senate Democrats have received substantial campaign help from a prominent donor and a liberal lawyer linked to some of the biggest political disinformation scandals in recent years.

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman has given tens of thousands of dollars this election cycle to Sens. Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.), and Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.). Hoffman came under fire for funding a scheme to suppress Republican voter turnout in Alabama's 2017 Senate election. The senators have used campaign money to pay the law firm of Marc Elias, the former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer who commissioned a dossier of bogus research alleging links between Donald Trump and Russia.

The trio's dealings with Hoffman and Elias come as Democrats push to eradicate so-called misinformation from social media. Cortez Masto, for example, has attacked social media companies for allowing election-related "disinformation and misinformation" to "thrive" on their platforms. None of the senators, however, have criticized Hoffman's or Elias's efforts to influence elections. Kelly, Cortez Masto, and Warnock are relying on the operatives as they face the toughest reelection campaigns in the Democratic party. Democrats consider the races must-wins in order to maintain a Senate majority, and the Cook Political Report rates all three contests as toss-ups.

Hoffman has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic committees and candidates, though his donations to Kelly, Cortez Masto, and Warnock are the most to any candidates this election cycle. Hoffman gave maximum donations of $5,800 to all three of the candidates, as well as $20,000 to the Mark Kelly Victory Fund, $15,000 to the Cortez Masto Victory Fund 2022, and $20,800 to the Warnock Victory Fund, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Hoffman funded at least two political disinformation operations. He gave $100,000 to American Engagement Technologies, a tech firm that created fake social media personas in order to dissuade conservatives from voting in the 2017 Alabama special election. The project borrowed Russian tactics in an attempt to take down Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Hoffman apologized for backing the company but denied knowledge of the tech firm's tactics. Hoffman was an early backer of Acronym, a dark money group that funds a network of sham local news sites that peddle pro-Democratic spin.

As the Democrats took money from Hoffman, they paid tens of thousands of dollars each to Elias's law firm, Elias Law Group. The firm has taken $46,313 from Kelly, $30,000 from Cortez Masto, and $43,765 from Warnock, according to campaign disclosures.

As lawyer for the Clinton campaign, Elias hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS and former British spy Christopher Steele to compile research on Trump's possible ties to Russia. Elias and his former law partner Michael Sussmann briefed reporters and Clinton campaign officials about Steele's findings, which have since been debunked by federal and congressional investigators. Special Counsel John Durham indicted Sussmann last year for lying to the FBI about the Trump investigation.

The Federal Election Commission scrutinized Elias's dossier-related work, and fined the Clinton campaign $105,000 this year for mislabeling payments to Elias's firm. The campaign said the payments were for legal services, when they were actually used for opposition research.

None of the campaigns responded to requests for comment.