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NRCC uses fake news pages to attack Democrats

The National Republican Congressional Committee has a new campaign strategy — one Democrats call misleading and deceptive.
Rep. John Barrow campaigns in Augusta, Ga., Nov. 6, 2012.
Rep. John Barrow campaigns in Augusta, Ga., Nov. 6, 2012.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is rolling out a new form of attack ads on Democratic candidates -- one Democrats say is misleading and deceptive.

Hoping to help Republican congressional candidates get elected, the NRCC has set up a series of websites that -- to the untrained eye -- have the appearance of legitimate local news sites. But make no mistake, the websites contain ads, not news articles.

One of the sites titled “Augusta Update” takes aim at Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat who is considered vulnerable in his race. An article on the page criticizes Barrow for voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act and working “hand-in-hand” with President Obama. And while the ad quotes actual news outlets, the only mention of sponsorship comes at the bottom of the page.

Barrow is running against businessman Rick Allen for a sixth term representing Georgia’s 12th congressional district.

The NRCC came under scrutiny earlier this year for websites that appeared to support Democratic candidates, but actually sent donor dollars to the NRCC. Officials eventually edited the sites to make them more transparent. Some of the sites, including, are still operating, but if a user wants to donate, the donor page now makes it clear that the money will go toward helping Republicans. 

As for the latest set of ads, NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told msnbc, “This is an effective way to disseminate information to voters who are particularly interested in learning the truth about these Democratic candidates.” 

The NRCC confirms there are two dozen active landing pages attacking Democratic candidates. Another page, “Central Valley Update” targets California House candidate Amanda Renteria, who has been labeled a "carpetbagger" by opponents. Others in the NRCC’s cross-hairs includee Ann Callis in Illinois, Nick Casey in West Virginia, and Sean Eldridge in New York.

“Democrats and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] are actively trying to have their candidates not talk to reporters and not do public appearances and they’re trying to hide their reckless agendas and voters deserve the facts,” Bozek said.

All the NRCC's pages so far are designed to take swipes at Democratic candidates. They do not explicitly endorse any specific Republican candidates. The NRCC confirms they’ve been “highly effective,” but Democrats call the pages misleading. And while it remains unclear whether the NRCC intends to post more fake news sites, the the group's Democratic counterpart says web-surfers should beware:

“House Republicans' campaign strategy to overcome their own historic unpopularity is to resort to deception – again,” Josh Schwerin, national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told msnbc.

Schwerin also dismissed Bozek's assertion that Democrats are avoiding the press.

“While House Republicans are focused on fake news, Democrats will be highlighting the real Republican record of siding with their special interest-backers over the middle class.”