A pro-Trump group bought Facebook ads for Green party candidates during the 2018 midterm elections to try and split the Democratic vote, The Guardian reported

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  • A right-wing marketing firm placed Facebook ads backing Green Party candidates in 2018.

  • The apparent effort to split the Democratic vote in 2018 was first reported by The Guardian.

  • Facebook knew the pro-Trump group had placed the ads, according to the report.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the group that The Guardian identified was behind the Facebook ads in question. The news outlet reported it was marketing firm Rally Forge.

Leaked Facebook documents show that a right-wing political consulting firm with ties to Turning Point USA placed Facebook ads for Green Party candidates to try to split the vote for the 2018 midterm elections, according to a report from The Guardian.

The conservative marketing firm Rally Forge worked with a Facebook group called America Progress Now, in which it used socialist memes to encourage Democratic voters to vote for Green party candidates, the Guardian reported.

In an email to Insider, Rally Forge CEO Jake Hoffman said the marketing firm was not responsible for funding the ads, but placed them on behalf of their client, America Progress Now.

Rally Forge was later banned from Facebook after creating a "troll farm" for Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, according to the Guardian.

A spokesperson for Turning Point USA told The Guardian that the firm had nothing to do with the America Progress Now scheme.

Backing the Green Party with the ads was part of an apparent effort to split the Democratic vote, according to the Guardian.

The tactic of peeling off voters who would otherwise vote for the opposition by promoting a third party instead is nothing new, but also constrained by campaign finance laws.

America Progress Now may have violated campaign finance laws by misrepresenting themselves to the Federal Election Commission, according to The Guardian.

The group was already under campaign finance scrutiny following a Vice News and ProPublica investigation into their links to the Facebook ads without proper disclosures around independent expenditures and proper disclosures.

"It seems as if it's a clear fraud," Ann Revel, a former FEC commissioner, told The Guardian after reviewing the documents. "The requirement for the justice department to take on an electoral matter is that it be serious and willful, and clearly in this case it was willful, in my opinion."

In July 2020, the FEC dismissed a potential case against America Progress Now after a watchdog group filed a complaint against them.

Evan Muhlstein, the listed chairman of APN, took responsibility for the lack of disclosure, citing his "inexperience," according to the closed FEC file. Muhlstein told the FEC he spent just under $2,500 on advertising, and the case was dismissed, with FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub noting: "The Commission was able to determine that this matter was not worth the further expenditure of Commission resources."

The FEC cited a policy not to comment on enforcement matters, according to The Guardian.

Muhlstein did not disclose the ad buys through Rally Forge until December 2020.

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