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Texas Cracks Down On Political Endorsement Of Social Media Influencers


Texas Cracks Down On Political Endorsement Of Social Media Influencers

The Texas Ethics Commission is taking steps to increase transparency around paid political messaging by social media influencers. The state’s top election watchdog gave initial approval last week to a new rule that would require online creators and personalities to disclose if they are being compensated for sharing or creating political ads and content.

According to The Texas Tribune reporting, the proposed rule could be finalized at the commission’s next meeting in June.

The action comes after The Tribune reported in August 2022 that a secretive company called Influenceable LLC paid online influencers, some with millions of followers, to voice support for Attorney General Ken Paxton ahead of his impeachment trial in the state Senate.

“It is not a hypothetical,” James Tinley, the commission’s general counsel, said at a March 20 meeting. “There is at least one business whose business model now is to do just that.”

The Tribune’s reporting found Influenceable had worked to sway public opinion by paying Gen Z influencers to claim Paxton was the victim of a “witch hunt” and accuse the Republican House Speaker of being a drunk who enabled the investigation.

Influenceable LLC has ties to prominent GOP groups and figures allied with Paxton. It has a partnership with Campaign Nucleus, a political messaging firm owned by Brad Parscale, the digital director for former President Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

Last June, Influenceable sponsored a two-day event in Fort Worth attended by Midland billionaire Tim Dunn, a major Paxton donor, and his son David. Parscale spoke at the event alongside the Dunns. Since 2002, the groups and families of Dunn and fellow oil tycoon Farris Wilks have given Paxton over $4.65 million in donations and loans, triple his next largest donor.

Dunn and Wilks also funded Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which gave $3 million to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick before he oversaw Paxton’s trial. Records show the PAC paid $18,000 to “Influencable LLC” shortly before the Paxton probe became public.

Throughout the summer of 2022, influencers heavily promoted a film alleging the Texas House was controlled by “Republicans In Name Only” targeting conservatives like Paxton. The film was produced by Texas Scorecard, a website also funded by Dunn and Wilks.

Leaked messages showed Influenceable offered some creators $50 to share specific pro-Paxton posts. Influencers then did so, with comments like “RINOs in Texas are still trying to impeach Ken Paxton. STOP THE WITCH HUNT!”

The tactics outraged some Republicans, with one lawmaker calling for Influenceable to be investigated and for the legislature to address such firms. Since then, GOP primary races in 2024 saw widespread misinformation, spurring calls from some Republicans to reform the state’s political advertising rules.

Dunn and Wilks spent over $3 million this year backing far-right candidates through a new PAC created after reporting linked Defend Texas Liberty’s ex-leader to white supremacists.

The Ethics Commission’s proposed disclosure rule aims to shed light on efforts to covertly influence public opinion through paid influencer marketing on burning political issues.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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