Missouri Democrats Create Alternative 'News' Site to Boost McCaskill

State Democrats launch 'The Missouri Download' to bash Josh Hawley

Claire McCaskill
Claire McCaskill / Getty Images
July 9, 2018

The Missouri Democratic Party quietly launched its own "news" website this year to pump up Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and bash Republicans ahead of her reelection fight.

The website, The Missouri Download, launched on March 1 and posted just five stories in its first two months, all targeting McCaskill's top Republican opponent, Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley.

The party appears to be hiding its involvement in the site as best it can while staying within legal parameters.

The launch of Missouri Download was not announced by the Missouri Democrats and is yet to be mentioned on its main website or its Twitter account. There is a miniscule disclosure of the party's involvement on the bottom of the page, written in size 5.5 font, and contained in a box about a quarter of the size of the disclosure box on the party's actual home page. (The disclosures on The Missouri Download  and the Missouri Democrats websites can be seen highlighted in red in the screenshot below. Click here to see enlarged version.)

The Missouri Democrats did not respond to inquiries into why it started the site or who is writing the posts, which all resemble press releases and have no name on the byline.

The site is yet to achieve much of a reach, and its sole purpose at this point appears to be to provide campaign officials with positive headlines to put out on social media.

The site's Twitter account, @TheMODownload, has just 15 followers, a list that contains this author but not the Missouri Democrats or any McCaskill campaign officials.

Most of the retweets it receives, however, come from either the Missouri Democrats' deputy communications director Brooke Goren or McCaskill campaign communications director Meira Bernstein, both who have regularly made use of its content in recent months. Neither follows the site on Twitter.

The law requires disclosures to be "presented in a clear and conspicuous manner." It states that "a disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or if the placement is easily overlooked."

Campaign lawyers who discussed the disclosure with the Washington Free Beacon on background said the "safe harbor" is generally considered to be size 12 font, but that as long as a disclosure is readable the requirement is satisfied.

The decision by campaigns to start up internal ways of creating content is becoming increasingly common.

Down in Florida, a Democrat campaigning for Congress against Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, created, which, like the Missouri Download, included a standard campaign disclosure but was designed to look like an independent blog, the Miami Herald found.

Republican representative Devin Nunes (Calif.) also started up, first discovered by Politico, which criticized Nunes for putting his disclosure in "small print at the bottom of the site."

The Missouri Republican Party, which was first alerted of the Missouri Download by the Washington Free Beacon, says it has never considered creating a news outlet, but also discounted the possibility of the site helping McCaskill in November.

"Missourians have had it with Claire obstructing President Trump, so it’s no surprise Claire’s party is scrambling to push out some positive stories," said Ray Bozarth, the party’s political director.

"Claire has been a career politician for 30 years, her husband has money squirreled away in the Cayman Islands while she votes against tax cuts, and she’s voted against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and ten of his cabinet nominees," Bozarth added.

"The Democrats can launch 100 fake news sites, but it won’t change the minds of Missourians who are sick of Claire being an out of touch liberal, who only wants to get re-elected so she can obstruct President Trump’s America First agenda."

The added costs of running the site appear to be minimal for the Missouri Democrats.

Beginning in March when the site started, it began paying GoDaddy for "website hosting" targeted at Hawley, according to it's FEC filings. The total cost for the site thus far has been just over $100.