Washington (CNN) - Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.
The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.
The practice is the latest effort in the quest by political operatives to exploit the murky world of campaign finance laws at a time when limits on spending in politics are eroding and regulators are being defanged.
The law says that outside groups, such as super PACs and non-profits, can spend freely on political causes as long as they don't coordinate their plans with campaigns. Sharing costly internal polls in private, for instance, could signal to the campaign committees where to focus precious time and resources.
The groups behind the operation had a sense of humor about what they were doing. One Twitter account was named after Bruno Gianelli, a fictional character in The West Wing who pressed his colleagues to use ethically questionable "soft money" to fund campaigns.
A typical tweet read: "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s." The source said posts like that -- which would look like gibberish to most people -- represented polling data for various House races.
Posting the information on Twitter, which is technically public, could provide a convenient loophole to the law — or could run afoul of it.
"It's a line that has not been defined. This is really on the cutting edge," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization focused on campaign finance issues. "It might not be legal. It's a cutting edge practice that, to my knowledge, the Federal Election Commission has never before addressed to explicitly determine its legality or permissibility."
At least two outside groups and a Republican campaign committee had access to the information posted to the accounts, according to the source. They include American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove; American Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is the campaign arm for the House GOP.
The accounts that CNN reviewed were active in the months ahead of this month's election, which gave Republicans their largest majority in the House since World War II and control of the Senate. They were live until Nov. 3 but deleted minutes after CNN contacted the NRCC with questions.
How the GOP used Twitter to stretch election laws - CNN.com
I guess voter fraud is a real issue. If this actually goes anywhere this could be good ammo for us Dems to use in 2016. If it goes nowhere expect the Dems to use this same strategy. To me deleting the accounts is admission of guilt. If the GOP didn't do anything wrong then those accounts would still be active.