As the Environmental Protection Agency was attempting to conjure support for a controversial water rule pushed by President Obama, they violated federal law by using "covert propaganda" from their use of social media accounts, according to the New York Times.
The Times reports:
The ruling by the Government Accountability Office, which opened its investigation after a report in The New York Times on the agency’s practices, served as a cautionary tale to federal agencies about the perils of getting too active in using social media to push a cause. Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.
It also emerged as Republican leaders moved to block the so-called Waters of the United States clean-water rule through an amendment to the enormous spending bill expected to pass in Congress this week.
"GAO’s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that EPA will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda," Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who is pressing to block the rule, said in a statement Monday. "EPA’s illegal attempts to manufacture public support for its Waters of the United States rule and sway Congressional opinion regarding legislation to address that rule have undermined the integrity of the rule-making process and demonstrated how baseless this unprecedented expansion of EPA regulatory authority really is."
The EPA used Twitter, Facebook, and various other social media platforms in an attempt to counter opposition against the water rule.
The Times later says:
But in the E.P.A.’s counterattack, the G.A.O. says agency officials engaged in "covert propaganda" on behalf of Mr. Obama’s water policy by concealing the fact that its social messages were coming from the E.P.A. The agency essentially became lobbyists for its cause by including links that directed people to advocacy organizations.
Federal agencies are allowed to promote their own policies, but they are not allowed to engage in propaganda, which means covert activity intended to influence the American public. They also are not allowed to use federal resources to conduct so-called grass-roots lobbying — urging the American public to contact Congress to take a certain kind of action on pending legislation.
As it promoted the Waters of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, the E.P.A. violated both of these laws, a 26-page report signed by Susan A. Poling, the general counsel to the G.A.O., concluded, in an investigation requested by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.