Blue Dog-Affiliated Website Blurs Line Between Newsroom and Political Advertiser

The Well News, founded by employees of a Blue Dog-affiliated nonprofit, appears to be exploiting a campaign finance loophole to run ads boosting Blue Dog Democrats.

Blue Dog-Affiliated Website Blurs Line Between Newsroom and Political Advertiser
Blue Dog Coalition co-chair Rep. Ed Case

Campaigns and PACs spend billions each election year to run political advertisements on TV, radio, the internet, and to send printed matter to voters’ mailboxes. But these messages might not always be the most effective way to promote their candidates. The sheer volume of political ads can cause people to mentally block them out, and since the ads are sponsored by political groups they are often assumed to have bad, biased information.

One thing campaigns can do to get information out is to give it to reporters and try to get their narratives to appear in articles published by trustworthy news outlets. However, that can be a risky approach because the campaigns can’t control the content, which could come out including information that they would rather not have voters be made aware of. In other cases, campaigns may simply have trouble finding an outlet interested in what they have to offer.

Another option is for them to start their own platforms that appears to be a news outlet but also puts out information designed to promote candidates, which they can pay to show to targeted constituencies on digital ad networks such as Facebook’s. The Democratic Party-aligned digital agency Acronym created a website called Courier Newsroom in 2019 that spent millions of dollars on Facebook to promote articles and videos favorable to Democratic politicians. On the Republican side, the House GOP campaign arm did something similar in 2014 with a network of fake local news domains to run Google ads against Democrats. Now, another faux news outlet has popped up that appears to be doing something similar to boost conservative House Democrats. 

The Well News is a website that was launched in 2018 by two founding members who work with a nonprofit called Center Forward that is affiliated with the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative House Democrats. The site describes itself as a “independent, American news organization that strives to help our audience connect the dots in an increasingly complex informational landscape by providing unbiased, well-researched and thought-provoking content on multiple platforms.” But a review of its articles and promoted posts reveals a disproportionate emphasis on promoting the Blue Dogs, blurring the line between news coverage and political advertising. 

The Facebook page for Well News typically promotes a handful of posts per month on the site’s ad network, but there is a stark contrast between two types of posts that tend to get boosted. While the majority of the paid posts are articles on the political issues of the day or ads meant to promote the website in general to a larger audience, there is another category of paid posts that feature photos of Blue Dog politicians and blurbs promoting their work in Congress that are generally given much larger promotion budgets.