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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Using Government as a Political Tool


Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker at WP:
President Trump is mobilizing the vast powers of the military and other parts of the federal government to help bolster Republican election efforts, using the office of the presidency in an attempt to dictate the campaigns’ closing themes and stoke the fears and anxieties of his supporters ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Trump in recent days has made aggressive moves aimed at pushing policies that could boost Republicans next week — deploying thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in the largest such operation since the Mexican Revolution, floating the idea ending birthright citizenship and warning he intends to halt the caravan of Central American migrants.
The president has also moved to lower Medicare drug prices and suggested the idea of a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, sending administration and congressional officials scrambling to assemble a new tax policy.
The cumulative acts reflect the extent to which Trump has transformed parts of the federal bureaucracy into a factory of threats, directives and actions — an outgrowth of a campaign strategy which the president and his political advisers settled on as their best chance to hold the Republican congressional majorities.
“This is the most focused and concerted effort to use all of the powers of the presidency to shape a midterm election that I have ever seen,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program and a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House.
“President Trump is pushing every button on the console and he is mobilizing all of the power, including the communications power, of the federal government on behalf of his party’s campaign in this midterm,” Galston added.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

More Than Five Billion Dollars

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

From Open Secrets:
The Center for Responsive Politics projects that more than $5.2 billion will be spent this election cycle, making it the most expensive midterm election ever by a wide margin.
With less than two weeks before election day, $4.7 billion has already been spent by candidates, political parties and other groups such as PACs, super PACs and nonprofits. Prior to this election cycle, no midterm election had surpassed more than $4.2 billion in spending when adjusted for inflation.
The overall estimated cost of the 2018 election would represent a 35 percent increase over the 2014 cycle in nominal dollars, the largest increase in at least two decades.
...
While Republican candidates are raising funds at record levels, the huge uptick in spending is driven primarily by unprecedented Democratic fundraising. Democratic candidates are projected to spend more than $2.5 billion this cycle, while Republicans are expected to spend approximately $2.2 billion.
Democratic House hopefuls have raised more than $951 million, crushing their Republican opponents’ $637 million haul. Things are closer in the Senate — $513 million to $361 million — but Democrats are still ahead.
In every kind of competitive race — even those in red districts — Democrats are either outraising Republicans or keeping pace.


Cold Civil War

In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House.

Our cold civil w.ar grows hotter by the day. Between now and the election next week, there seems to be no apparent letup of violence in sight. We witnessed the Squirrel Hill massacre, one day after the arrest of accused mail bomber Cesar Sayec, and after two African Americans were shot and killed in Kentucky. The latest tragedy is a deadly school shooting in North Carolina, where the gunman and the deceased were students.
At the same time, Donald Trump appears intent on continuing to shred the social fabric that ties our nation together. Welcome again to the new era where the president as unifier in chief is looking passe. Faced with the dual prospect of Republicans losing the House and expanding their control of the Senate, the president would not skip a beat, falsely claiming that the stock market barely took time off after 9/11, so why should he?

On Saturday night, hours after nearly a dozen Americans were slaughtered at worship in Pittsburgh, the president instead opted to appear at a campaign rally. After a perfunctory acknowledgement of what went wrong earlier in the day, it was business as usual. As to be expected, those who stood in the way of his message got verbally strafed. Surely the ghost of Avery Brundage, the former International Olympic Committee president who declared that the games “must go on” in the aftermath of the 1972 Munich massacre, must have been smiling. As for Pepe the frog, his spirit marches on. Wash, rinse, dry, and repeat
Jonathan Swan and Stef W. Knight at Axios:
 President Trump plans to sign an executive order that would remove the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on U.S. soil, he said yesterday in an exclusive interview for "Axios on HBO," a new four-part documentary news series debuting on HBO this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Why it matters: This would be the most dramatic move yet in Trump's hardline immigration campaign, this time targeting "anchor babies" and "chain migration." And it will set off another stand-off with the courts, as Trump’s power to do this through executive action is debatable to say the least.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Independent Expenditures in California House Races



As of Sunday afternoon, general election federal independent expenditures in California’s House races had ticked up another $6.5 million since Wednesday evening to just over $74 million.
  • The Republicans’ Congressional Leadership Fund accounted for $3.2 million of the additional spending, with two $1 million+ buys in Steve Knight’s CA25 and Ed Royce’s open CA39 seat, along with another $885,000 in Jeff Denham’s CA10 and $290,000 in Mimi Walters’ CA45. 
  • New Republican PAC, which has spent over $20 million in the Florida Senate race on ads opposing Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, made its first foray into congressional races around ten days ago with a $370,000 buy in CA45. It followed that up just prior to the weekend with another $600,000 ad buy opposing Democratic challenger Katie Porter. 
  • Mike Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC joined the pile-on in CA49, with an additional $500,000 TV ad buy supporting Democrat Mike Levin, bringing the outside spending in the race to just over $4 million, with none of it to the benefit of Republican Diane Harkey. 
  • The Democrats’ House Majority PAC made a surprise late buy in CA21 this weekend, committing a modest $257,000 to television ads opposing incumbent Republican David Valadao. The buy marks a reversal from several weeks ago, when the DCCC pulled its ad reservations from the Fresno market as they appeared to write off Democrat TJ Cox’s chances of unseating Valadao. The CA21 buy accounted for the bulk of the $511,000 spent by the House Majority PAC in California House races since the previous update. 
  • Republican Women for Progress, a committee funded largely by LinkedIn co-Founder Reid Hoffman, Wicklow Capital’s Daniel Tierney, but evidently no Republican women, spent $266,000 on ads supporting Democratic candidates in CA48, CA25, and CA50.

Unwelcome in Pittsburgh

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's characterDuring the campaign, he openly encouraged violence by supporters.

An open letter to Trump from a group of Pittsburgh Jewish leaders:
Yesterday, a gunman slaughtered 11 Americans during Shabbat morning services. We mourn with the victims’ families and pray for the wounded. Here in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, we express gratitude for the first responders and for the outpouring of support from our neighbors near and far. We are committed to healing as a community while we recommit ourselves to repairing our nation.
For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.
Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.
The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees.
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.
The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.
This means all of us.
In our neighbors, Americans, and people worldwide who have reached out to give our community strength, there we find the image of God. While we cannot speak for all Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say:
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Outgunned, Outmanned, Outnumbered, Outplanned

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

 Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at NYT:
For the final two weeks of the election, Democratic campaigns and outside groups are on track to substantially outspend Republicans, strategists on both sides say. Democrats are set to spend $143 million on television advertising in House races, compared with $86 million for Republicans, according to one analysis by a Democratic strategist tracking media buys.
Democratic super PACs and other outside groups are poised to outspend their Republican counterparts by a wide margin, erasing an advantage Republicans planned on having.

Much of the Democrats’ unanticipated firepower comes from one source: Michael R. Bloomberg, the liberal former New York City mayor who may run for president, plans to spend about $20 million on House advertising through his super PAC, Independence USA, in the final week of the campaign, a Bloomberg adviser said.
...
“It’s the suburban seats and it’s the flow of money,” Representative Tom Cole, a longtime Oklahoma Republican and former House campaign chairman, said of the party’s two overriding concerns.

...
“Some of the guys who should be in trouble are doing O.K.,” said Michael Steel, a longtime House Republican strategist, alluding to lawmakers in districts Mr. Trump lost or only narrowly carried. “But there appear to be little fires everywhere.”
...
“I think we’ll have a suburban wave,” said Liesl Hickey, a former executive director of the N.R.C.C. “A lot of the districts that we are most likely to lose are Democratic-leaning, they’re just going to what their modern DNA is.”

Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC has run ads all over the country. 

Jordan Graham at the Orange County Register:
Wall Street billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent $4.3 million this week to help Democrat Harley Rouda in his effort to unseat 30-year GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in their fight to represent much of coastal Orange County.

In the process, Bloomberg, a former Republican, helped make the 48th Congressional District the nation’s most expensive active House campaign in terms of outside spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

More than $18.2 million has been spent on the race by interested partisan groups, nearly three quarters coming from Democrats. The race’s price tag swells to $29 million when including money from candidate committees.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Divider

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character. During the campaign, he openly encouraged violence by supporters.




During crises, past presidents tried to unify the country. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker at WP:
This week offered a fresh example of Trump’s alternative approach: As pipe bombs were discovered addressed to prominent Democrats and a news network that have been subjects of Trump’s caustic campaign-trail attacks, the president sounded a call for national unity.

But the words rang hollow throughout the week as Trump assailed the “Fake News” media, shirked any personal responsibility for his incendiary rhetoric and, on Friday morning, used his bully pulpit to advance a baseless conspiracy theory that the bombs were both fake and orchestrated by the left. Roughly an hour later, authorities arrested 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, a man in Florida with a lengthy criminal record whose white van was covered in pro-Trump and anti-Democratic images.

Later Friday afternoon, as he departed Washington for a rally in Charlotte, Trump told reporters he has no plans to tone down his rhetoric — “I could really tone it up,” he said — and noted that the suspect “was a person that preferred me over others.” He also rejected the notion of responsibility: “There’s no blame. There’s no anything.”

Friday, October 26, 2018

Lurch Left

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.

Thomas B. Edsall at NYT:
A widely circulated report issued earlier this month provides further detail on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The study, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” was produced by a group called More In Common, which says it seeks “to build communities and societies that are stronger, more united and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division.”
The report identified the most liberal constituency as “progressive activists,” a constituency that is expected to make up a quarter of Democratic voters this year, according to Stephen Hawkins, research director at More In Common.
These voters stand apart with “the highest levels of education and socioeconomic status” of all the groups studied. They are “highly sensitive to issues of fairness and equity in society, particularly with regards to race, gender and other minority group identities.” In addition, a third of progressive activists view political correctness as having gone too far, compared with 80 percent of the population as a whole.
There are a number of other areas where progressive activists differ from the average American, according to the More in Common study. Progressive activists are “more than twice as likely to say that they never pray (50 percent to 19 percent), “almost three times more likely to be ‘ashamed to be an American’ ” (69-24), eleven percentage points more likely to be white (80-69), and “twice as likely to have completed college (59-29).
Goldberg, the doctoral candidate at Georgia State University, has documented the changing character of the Democratic electorate in a working paper, “The 2016 Election and the Left’s Lurch Left.”
Using American National Election Studies data, Goldberg found that among white liberal women, the share identifying themselves as “feminist” rose from 45 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 2016. For white liberal men, the percentage saying they were feminists grew from 34 to 59 percent.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fundraising Picture for the House

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

Michael Malbin at The Campaign Finance Institute:
Democratic Challengers and Candidates in Competitive Elections: Filing to run is only the first step of a long process. To run a strong campaign, you have to raise enough money to get your message across to voters. In 2018, the raw enthusiasm of Democratic candidates for running has been backed by the enthusiasm of their donors. Figure 2 displays fundraising through September 30 for House Democratic and Republican challengers in general elections since 2004.

As the above figure shows, Democrats running in the general election against incumbent Republican House members in 2018 have shattered all previous records for challenger fundraising, more than doubling the previous high set by Republicans in 2010. We know from the work of Gary Jacobson and other political scientists that challenger fundraising is probably the single strongest signpost of a competitive election campaign. In 2010, Republican challengers had raised 43 percent as much as the Democratic incumbents they were facing by the end of September, and 52 Democrat incumbents were defeated in the general election. In 2018, the shoe was more than just barely on the other foot. By the end of September, Democratic challengers had raised 69 percent as much as the incumbents they faced. We should emphasize that this includes all challengers and not only the ones in competitive races. All Democratic challengers, including the sure losers, raised almost as much by September 30, on average, as the average winner spent over the course of the entire two-year cycle in 2016. (See the Brookings Institution’s Vital Statistics on Congress and The Campaign Finance Institute’s Guide to Money in Federal Elections.)

In contests for the 42 open seats currently held by Republicans, Democrats have outraised the Republicans by an average of $2.2 million to $1.4 million. This is the only year since we began calculating in 2004 in which out-party candidates had a major financial advantage in open seat races. The only other time an out-party had even a slight advantage was in the GOP landslide year of 2010, when Republicans running for Democratic-held open seats outraised the Democrats by $1.2 million to $1.1 million.

Half Past Trump: The 2018 Midterm Elections

Half Past Trump: The 2018 Midterm Elections
Athenaeum, October 25, 2018


The O. Henry Ad:





The Funny Ad:



The Inspiring Ad:




Approval:  the losses are more severe when the president is unpopular. And despite a recent uptick, Trump remains unpopular.


rakich-trump-approval-0213_net








SCENARIO ONE -- WITH THE ODDS:  DEMS PICK UP 25-35 HOUSE SEATS, NO NET CHANGE IN SENATE

SCENARIO TWO -- GOOD REPUBLICAN NIGHT:  DEMS PICK UP 15-20 HOUSE SEATS, GOP GAINS 2-3 SENATE SEATS

SCENARIO THREE -- GREAT DEMOCRATIC NIGHT:  DEMS PICK UP 40+ HOUSE SEATS, NET 3+ SENATE SEATS.









Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Nunes Puts Avenatti in Fundraising Email

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

Devin Nunes is using Stormy Daniels's lawyer in a new fundraising email:


House Election Forecasts

With a broad background of midterm history, congressional arithmetic, and the current political climate established, we can now turn to the more systematic estimates of how these factors are likely to come together in this year’s midterm. What follows are four independent congressional forecasts and one state legislative forecast that inform us about what we should expect to come out of this election. Table 1 presents a summary of these congressional forecasts. Although there are differences among them, two points are common. 2018 is likely to be a very good year for the Democrats in the House of Representatives. In fact, all four forecasts expect a Democratic House majority. In the Senate, Republicans are likely to hold their own and perhaps pick up a seat or two. So, on to the forecasts.

Table 1 Summary of the 2018 Midterm Congressional Election Forecasts
Furthermore, the president’s party tends to do worse in the House popular vote than the president does in his approval rating. On average in midterms since 1946, the president has had a +11.3 percentage point net approval rating as of Election Day, but the president’s party has lost the popular vote for the House by 4.9 percentage points. That gap is partly explained by voters’ tendency to seek a balance of political power even if they like the president — something that may be especially relevant this year because, when voters voted Republican for Congress in 2016, most of them expected Hillary Clinton to be president. Republican candidates for the House won voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016. If, hypothetically, Democrats won that group of voters by 30 percentage points instead this year, they’d win the popular vote by around 10 percentage points, not far from where most generic ballot polls have the race.
There still is some relationship between a president’s approval rating and his party’s midterm performance. But even at Trump’s slightly improved values, it isn’t a relationship that bodes well for the GOP. The data in the chart below, for example, would imply roughly a 10-point popular vote loss for the GOP given Trump’s current approval rating

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Independent Expenditures

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

A release from the Campaign Finance Institute:

General Election IE Tool

Follow CFI on Twitter: Follow cfinst_org on Twitter

Independent expenditures (IEs) reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for general election House and Senate contests have continued on a record pace, totaling $695 million through October 21st. This is $103 million more than on the same date in 2016, based on a Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) analysis of data supplied by the FEC. Detailed data on all races with independent expenditures, and on the organizations making the IEs, are available and updated daily on CFI's website via these links: House | Senate |Spenders.

Spenders

Eight of the top ten spenders in the general election are party committees (DCCC, NRCC, NRSC, DSCC) or organizations, mostly Super PACs, tied to the congressional leadership. These organizations were responsible for a combined $409 million, or 59% of all general election IEs through October 21. Breaking them down, the leadership-related entities have been responsible for $265 million and the formal party committees $144 million. This is the first time the leadership-related committees have been quite so important. In 2014 the leadership-related groups spent about half as much as the formal party committees. By 2016 they had pulled almost even. This year, the leadership-related entities so far have come close to doubling the formal party committees.

With respect to the partisan breakdown: All IE spending has been virtually even in the amount spent to support Democrats and Republicans. Republican candidates currently hold a slight edge at 51% to 49%.

Top Races

A large number of House races are considered to be competitive this year and IE spending decisions are backing that up. In 2016 there were forty House races that had $1 million or more in independent expenditures through the entire general election. With two weeks still remaining before the 2018 election, there are already sixty-two districts with over $1 million in outside money.

The competitive landscape in the House is heavily weighted towards Republican incumbents defending their seats. The top ten House races by IE spending, each exceeding $9 million, all represent such districts. On the Senate side, the situation is mostly reversed with Democrats defending seats in seven of the top ten races.



# 30 #

Paying Your Dues


Rachel Bade and John Bresnahan at Politico:
House GOP leaders, fearful of the staggering amount of cash fueling Democratic candidates this cycle, are leaning on safe and retiring members to pony up to save the House.
At the outset of a private call with members last week, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) implored lawmakers to donate to the National Republican Congressional Committee or vulnerable colleagues. And NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) has been working the phones in one-on-one conversations to persuade members to give.

The drive, according to four senior Republican lawmakers and aides, is focused on members with easy reelection campaigns or who are retiring from Congress next year — people sitting on piles of cash that could be used to save vulnerable incumbents. Leaders are targeting some powerful outgoing chairmen, typically the most prolific fundraisers, who haven’t met their annual required “dues” to the NRCC, according to multiple sources.

In return for desirable committee assignments, party leaders on both sides expect members to pay "dues." As the report says, dues take three forms:
1. Money that is raised, usually by “dialing for dollars,” by a member on behalf of the party, which goes directly into the party’s war chest but is credited to the member.
2. Money that is transferred from a member’s campaign committee or leadership PAC to the party.
3. Money that is transferred from a member’s campaign committee or leadership PAC to fellow members and/or candidates in tough races.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cash On Hand

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

Kenneth P. Vogel and Rachel Shorey at NYT:
Republicans entered the final month of the campaign with more money in the bank than the Democrats, providing them with vital ammunition as they wage a furious effort to hold on to control of Congress.
The most recent round of campaign finance disclosures, filed Saturday, showed that Republican national party committees, candidates in key House and Senate races and their top unlimited-money outside groups, or “super PACs,” had $337 million on hand as of Sept. 30. Their Democratic counterparts had $285 million in the bank on the same date.
It was a rare bright spot for Republicans in a fund-raising picture otherwise dominated by Democrats on the strength of their breakneck small-donor fund-raising by candidates in key congressional races.
By contrast, Republicans owe their cash-on-hand advantage to brisk major-donor fund-raising, and a slower pace of spending, by their party committees and super PACs.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Adelson Money


Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy at WP:
Republican super PACs aligned with leadership in the House and Senate raised an enormous sum of $63 million in September, as the groups stepped up their fundraising and spending efforts in the final two months before Election Day to boost GOP candidates’ chances in the midterm elections.
About 70 percent of the money raised in September by the two super PACs working to elect Republicans to Congress came from the party’s biggest benefactors in the midterms, records show: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The latest donation brings their total contributions to the midterms to at least $112 million — cementing their status as the biggest donors this election.

The two Republican super PACs — Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), aligned with Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), and Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) — have been flooding the airwaves since September with a torrent of hard-hitting attack ads to boost Republicans and improve their chances of maintaining control of Congress.
But whereas campaigns get discounted TV ads rates, super PACs have to pay the full amount, which reduces the amount of airtime they can buy. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Random Moments on Twitter

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.

 Harley Rouda
Jason Lewis
French Hill

Foreign Interference


Joint Statement from the ODNI, DOJ, FBI and DHS: Combating Foreign Influence in U.S. Elections
Foreign interference in U.S. elections is a threat to our democracy; identifying and preventing this interference is a top priority of the Federal Government. We believe the greatest strength of our society is an engaged and informed public. Adversaries target U.S. elections to divide America along political lines and influence key policy decisions that are in their national interest.

Foreign Influence
We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies. These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.

Elements of these campaigns can take many forms, including using social media to amplify divisive issues, sponsoring specific content in English-language media like RT and Sputnik, seeding disinformation through sympathetic spokespersons regarding political candidates and disseminating foreign propaganda.

Election Infrastructure
Currently, we do not have any evidence of a compromise or disruption of infrastructure that would enable adversaries to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt our ability to tally votes in the midterm elections. Increased intelligence and information sharing among federal, state and local partners has improved our awareness of ongoing and persistent threats to election infrastructure. Some state and local governments have reported attempts to access their networks, which often include online voter registration databases, using tactics that are available to state and non-state cyber actors. Thus far, state and local officials have been able to prevent access or quickly mitigate these attempts.

Addressing the Threat
Foreign powers have long sought to exploit America’s free and open political system, but as the President recently stated, we will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections. The Executive Order on Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election, which President Trump signed on September 12, makes clear that the U.S. government will not hesitate to defend our electoral processes or punish those who interfere in it.


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and other relevant Intelligence Community components continue to work closely together in order to develop the most up-to-date picture of the threat. Additionally, we want to thank state and local officials for their vigilance and proactive approach in sharing information on cyber threats targeting state and local election infrastructure. We will continue to work with state and local election officials to increase the security and resilience of their systems and remain committed to supporting their actions to counter any threat to or attack on the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.


While the U.S. government is tirelessly working to identify and counter threats to the electoral process, the American public, government officials and political candidates and their campaigns can mitigate adversarial efforts by following sound cyber security guidelines and being responsible consumers of information, in particular from social media platforms. For more information please see the DHS checklist and voter security information sheet or visit the FBI’s webpage on combating foreign influence.

Project Lakhta: The Russians Keep Coming

 In Defying the Oddswe discuss social mediafake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

A release from the Justice Department:
A criminal complaint was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, today charging a Russian national for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2018 midterm election. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, and FBI Director Christopher Wray made the announcement after the charges were unsealed.

“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. ...
“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined work on this case.”
...
According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others.
Khusyaynova allegedly managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting news postings on social networks.” Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.

The alleged conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements.

The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers.
The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate. Members of the conspiracy took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.
The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view; they wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the conspiracy were directed, among other things, to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages.
The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.
The investigative team received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.


Download Complaint  (searchable version)