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Alabama asks federal officials to investigate Senate race

January 7, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama attorney general has asked federal election regulators to investigate reports of online fakery in the 2017 Alabama Senate race, a spokesman said Monday.

Attorney General Steve Marshall had previously said he wanted to look into the reports himself, but after evaluating them “has determined the matter to be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Election Commission,” Mike Lewis said.

Marshall’s request to federal authorities comes amid continued reports of online deception in the 2017 Senate race.

The Washington Post and New York Times first reported that a social media researcher acknowledged testing misleading online tactics during Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ 2017 campaign against Republican Roy Moore. The newspapers said operators posed as conservative voters on a Facebook page and that Twitter accounts were used to make it appear that Russian bots were following Moore.

“Alabamians have a right to know if illegal activity occurred during the 2017 race for the U.S. Senate. The reports of what may have transpired are deeply troubling and appear to warrant a full investigation by the Commission,” Marshall wrote in a Friday letter to the FEC.

The New York Times reported Monday that progressive Democrats were behind a “Dry Alabama” social media presence in the waning days of the campaign that associated Moore with a call to ban alcohol in the state, something likely to be opposed by moderate and business-oriented Republicans.

The newspaper reported that Matt Osborne, a progressive Alabama activist, worked on the project.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Osborne acknowledged being part of the scheme. He said he doesn’t necessarily like such tactics, but they have become a reality in politics, and Republicans are also using them.

“In this Wild West environment we are in, you either have to play by the rule set or you will get killed,” Osborne said.

He said there needs to be a “public policy conversation about this.”

Osborne said his primary interest was to get data, but also the “obvious intent on everybody’s part was to elect Doug Jones.”

He said the project was given a relatively small budget of $100,000 but that he believes it was successful, garnering millions of Facebook views. He said alcohol was chosen as the subject because it is an “interesting little culture war wedge issue.”

The Jones campaign itself had nothing to do with the scheme, he said.

Jones has called for a federal investigation.

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