EXCLUSIVE: Political Blogger on Campaign Payrolls for Scott, Jones
(APN) ATLANTA — Political blogger Andre Walker wrote dozens of blog items in favor of US Rep. David Scott (D-GA) this year but did not disclose to readers he was on Scott’s payroll. Walker runs a blog called Georgia Politics Unfiltered and also is a blogger at Peach Pundit.
Previously, Walker had faced scrutiny in the local blogger community for failing to disclose at least $1200 in payments from the Vernon Jones for US Senate Campaign 2008. According to the FEC reports, Walker was doing legislative updates; according to Walker, he was maintaining a blog for Jones called “Jonesin’ for Georgia.”
After information on the Jones payments was revealed on local blogs, Walker wrote a July 23, 2007, post called, “It’s time for some full disclosure.” Walker posted campaign finance reports on his blog at that time. However, he did not later do the same about the Scott payments.
Walker received at least five payments of $250 each from January to May 2008, totaling at least $1,250, according to campaign finance disclosures obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
The Scott campaign said he’s been receiving monthly payments since the beginning of 2008, suggesting he has received additional payments since the campaign’s last filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
When asked by email what the payments were for, Walker refused to say and referred APN to the Scott and Jones Campaigns.
“I support many candidates and causes and in some cases, I have been paid for my work,” Walker wrote to APN in an email.
APN asked Walker whether he thought it was a problem he did not disclose to his blog readers that he was being paid by some of the campaigns at the same time that he was writing positive comments about them.
Walker replied he felt the campaign finance reports filed with the FEC were sufficient disclosure to his readers, even though those readers do not necessarily cross-reference FEC reports every time they read a blog entry.
“Responding to your question of disclosure, any funds that I have received from any candidate, organization or political party is public record and the public record is my full disclosure,” Walker said.
Scott’s campaign told Atlanta Progressive News the payments to Walker were for maintaining their website. The FEC reports stated they were for Internet consulting.
“I don’t see where there’s a conflict of interest. They’re not getting paid for that purpose [blogging]. They’re getting paid to do a website,” Marcye Scott, who handles campaign finance reporting, told APN.
When asked whether it was misleading to the readers of Walkers’ blog to not tell them he was on the staff’s payroll, Scott said that was a question to ask Walker.
WALKER HAD FACED QUESTIONS ON JONES PAYMENTS
On May 16, 2007, DecaturGuy wrote on Atlanta Public Affairs blog that Vernon Jones’s blog and Walker’s blog looked very similar. An Internet search did not reveal who DecaturGuy in time for this story to go to press.
Then, on July 23, 2007, Walker wrote the post, “It’s time for full disclosure.”
“Now I already know that some folks are going to try and make a big deal out of this, but it is no big deal. I designed Vernon’s blog, I set it up online, I told him that I’d help get it publicized on the internet, and that I’d be on hand to answer any questions that he might have about blogging in general. However, and I want to be real clear about this, ‘Jonesin’ for Georgia’ is his blog. He has complete control over all aspects of it,” Walker wrote.
“One more thing, as a member of the state Democratic committee, I’m officially on the sidelines until we have a nominee. Once we have a nominee, I’ll be working to make sure that our nominee wins in the ’08 general election,” Walker wrote.
DecaturGuy the same day wrote, “Andre comes clean on Vernon.”
An anonymous commenter asked, “Why do you hate Andre Walker. Just wondering ”
“Because I like to expose hypocricy [sic],” DecaturGuy wrote. “He says that ‘on the sidelines until we have a nominee,’ but yet he is drawing $400 per month from Vernon Jones’ campaign payroll and waited 4 months, when a commenter on his blog revealed he was getting paid by Jones, until coming clean.”
“All the while he’s putting out favorable information about Jones under the guise of impartiality,” DecaturGuy wrote.
PRO-SCOTT BLOGGING BY WALKER
Walker wrote many positive items about Rep. Scott, including several posts which reprinted Scott’s campaign and Congressional press releases almost verbatim. Some of the posts were:
6/11/08- “Fly the Flag for Father’s Day”
5/21/08- David Scott Statement of Sen. Ted Kennedy
5/08/08- David Scott Fights for Mortgage Relief
4/28/08- David Scott Announces 4th Reelection Bid
4/22/08-The Big Picture in November (As told by John Lewis and David Scott)
4/16/08- Congressman Scott’s Wife Should Run for Delegate
4/11/08- David Scott Appointed to Farm Bill Conference Committee
4/08/08- Oh I do Believe Scott is Very Effective
Deborah Honeycutt Takes a Swing at David Scott… and Misses
3/17/08- 5 GA Dems Get an “A” for the Middle Class [neglects to mention Scott got average and failing grades in previous years]
3/04/08- 5 GA Congressman in Top Third of Power Rankings
3/03/08- David Scott Hears from South Fulton Residents
2/29/08- David Scott Town Hall Meeting Tomorrow
2/19/08- David Scott Reacts to Castro’s Resignation
2/16/08- David Scott Wants “All Voters’ Voices Heard”
2/11/08- David Scott to Host District Townhall Meetings
1/04/08- David Scott on GA Trend’s Influential List
11/19/07- David Scott in Top Ten according to New Power Rankings
11/11/07- Guest blogger: David Scott honoring our veterans
10/08/07- Guest blogger: Breast Cancer Research (by David Scott)
10/03/07- Scott: Bush Veto of SCHIP is just wrong
8/27/07- End the war but do it responsibly… that’s my take on what David Scott told…
8/17/07- David Scott to hold health fair tomorrow
BLOG ETHICS MURKY
“He [Walker] long ago made himself a little unpopular in the progressive world by blogging at Peach Pundit and working for people and not disclosing it,” Juliana Illari, blogger at Blog for Democracy, told APN. “He was working for Vernon at one point.”
“I don’t think anyone who blogs believes there are standards and practices right now. You’d have a hard time finding anyone who could agree. It’s basically, use at your own risk this information, by virtue of its very nature. Anyone can get them, they’re free. You read it and you have to consider what the opinion is,” Illari said.
“He has to do disclosure if he wants to retain any credibility, in my opinion,” Illari said. “That’s the point of writing disclosures, so people can see that kind of stuff so people can do their due diligence.”
“We’ve always wondered where his money comes from,” Illari said. “I knew he wasn’t working for the party; Andre wasn’t retained by the Party, so since Andre no longer worked for them, where does Andre’s money come from, the rest of 2007 and 2008?”
“That is a concern in the larger community, that when you wear multiple hats, which hat you are wearing today, and if you don’t disclose the hat, then no one knows,” Illari said.
“And good luck getting his reputation back to the people he still had a reputation with,” Illari said.
The FEC had considered establishing disclosure laws for bloggers with financial interests in the topics they were writing about, but backed off because of free speech concerns. Blogging ethics were in the news when it was discovered paid bloggers were used in the US Sen. John Thune (R-SD) campaign against former Sen. Daschle; and more recently when they were used in the US Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) versus former Sen. Allen race.
While there are no laws requiring individuals to disclose financial interests on their blogs, some scholars have argued in previous national news stories that many bloggers will choose to do it anyway to maintain credibility with their readers.
WALKER USED TO VOLUNTEER FOR SCOTT’S OPPONENT
No one is more shocked to learn Walker is being paid by Scott than Scott’s opponent, former State Sen. Donzella James; Andre used to volunteer for James.
“He came to my campaign office in 2006 and asked if he could be hired. And I told him we had an all-volunteer campaign. He said he’d like to see me win. I told him he would have to be a volunteer. He said he could run my campaign,” James told APN.
“I said, this young man was working with the Party, so I’ll give you a chance,” James said. James said he asked Walker not to be campaign manager anymore a few days later after Walker made public statements inconsistent with her campaign.
Now, James is wondering whether Walker was an undercover operative for Scott.
“Someone told me before I hired him, do not allow him in your office, he is with David Scott. They told me he had campaigned in the first campaign for Scott,” James said.
“Andre said that’s behind me, it’s a new day. He could have been sent to my campaign by David Scott in 2006,” James said.
James said she was leery when Andre pressured her to tell him if she had skeletons in her closet. “He said during that one week, what could they possibly say about you? You’ve got to tell me. When you look at your record, you look great. We’ve got to make sure we protect you if you have any skeletons. He said, are you sure, is there anything?”
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