Liberal Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman issued an apology on Wednesday for funding a group that falsely tried to give an impression the Russian government was supporting Alabama Republican Roy Moore in last year’s Senate election against now-Sen. Doug Jones.
Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, is one of Silicon Valley’s top donors to the Democratic campaigns and PACs. In the last election cycle he donated $7 million to Democratic groups, though his money also pours into non-traditional groups that aren’t mandated to report their funding and often operate in the shadows.
One such groups is American Engagement Technologies (AET), a firm run by former Obama appointee Mikey Dickerson, which received $750,000 from Hoffman and was part of the effort to falsely portray the Republican’s senate bid as being supported by the Kremlin.
“I find the tactics that have been recently reported highly disturbing. For that reason, I am embarrassed by my failure to track AET – the organization I did support – more diligently as it made its own decisions to perhaps fund projects that I would reject,” he said in a statement provided to the Washington Post.
“I want to be unequivocal: there is absolutely no place in our democracy for manipulating facts or using falsehoods to gain political advantage,” he added.
Hoffman said AET went on to facilitate a secret project with a budget of $100,000. One participant in the project was Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, a firm that wrote a report – released by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month – about Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election and its efforts to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
In a statement on Twitter, Morgan denied the project was aimed at influencing the election, which the Democrat won by 22,000 votes. "I did not participate in any campaign to influence the public," he wrote, saying the project goals weren't about supporting the Jones campaign.
Democratic operatives then created thousands of fake Russian accounts on Twitter and began following Moore, prompting attention from local and national media that falsely suggested Russia is backing Moore’s candidacy.
The project also involved creating a Facebook page and imitated conservative Alabamians who weren’t satisfied with the Republican candidate while encouraging others to write in another candidate.
The disinformation campaign was first revealed by the New York Times that obtained an internal report detailing the efforts.
“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the internal report said.
"We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet."
It also took credit for “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal” after experimenting “with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”
The multi-million Senate Alabama race ended with Jones victory over the embattled Republican, who lost the support of the party amid the allegations of misconduct, becoming the first Democratic senator from Alabama in more than 20 years.
Jones told Fox News that he’s “outraged” over the reports detailing the efforts to portray his opponent as backed by the Kremlin, calling for a federal investigation over the project.
“I'd like to see the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department look at this to see if there were any laws being violated and, if there were, prosecute those responsible,” he said. “These authorities need to use this example right now to start setting the course for the future to let people know that this is not acceptable in the United States of America.”