Watchdog Group Barks at Edge Imbeds in Political Campaigns

Watchdog group Campaign for Accountability is calling for an investigation into political campaigns' use of "imbedded" Facebook and Google staffers.

It wants the House and Senate Rules Committees to investigate the practice and whether new laws are needed to prevent what it says are edge providers "abusing their relationships" with Washington. That is according to a letter it was sending to Congress Tuesday (Aug. 14).

The campaign, which runs the Google Transparency Project, also released a report Tuesday outlining what it says is the quid pro quo for such imbeds: "Campaigns get free help targeting and persuading voters; the companies reap valuable intelligence for their lobbying operations and forge relationships with politicians who will be responsible for laws affecting their interests."

The campaign argues that the imbeds gives the edge providers inside knowledge of the campaigns and muscle with policymakers and potential policymakers that other industries can't get, calling it an "undisclosed, and largely unregulated influence channel."

"Academics who interviewed the tech company embeds shortly after the election found they made no bones about the purpose of the embeds. '[S]taffers at these firms stated that providing tools to candidates to help them get elected was a way to build relationships with the elected representatives who would be in a position to regulate them in the future," the report said. 

In the letter, which was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Rules Committees, the campaign included the report and said it documented the practice, which at least deserved an investigation, including that it may constitute an undisclosed, in-kind, contribution or could allow them to circumvent anti-coordination rules.

"All of these complex new issues deserve rigorous scrutiny and enforcement–and if current law fails to provide appropriate guardrails for such activities, legal reform," it said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.