Fake Democratic chamber website set up to endorse conservatives

By: - October 7, 2020 11:10 am
fake news

A screenshot of the fake chamber’s website, DemocraticChamberOfCommerce.com

Three Republican candidates this week publicized being endorsed by a fake Democratic organization — and one of them appears to be connected to it.

The website DemocraticChamberOfCommerce.com appears to have been set up for the sole purpose of endorsing a handful of Republican and independent candidates. A Democratic Chamber of Commerce does not appear to exist beyond this two-page website, which was first registered in March. Democratic groups in Nevada say they have never heard of any such organization. It has zero social media presence, and there are no mentions of it online beyond people discussing whether it exists.

The owner of the domain is not listed on public databases and there is no contact information on the site. However, an email address used by Republican Mack Miller auto-responds to anyone who inputs their email address into the “get involved’ prompt featured on the fake website.

Mack Miller email
An email used by Mack Miller sends an automatic reply to anyone who attempts to contact the fake chamber’s website.

Miller is looking to unseat Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller in Nevada Assembly District 5. The two candidates are not related to one another.

A screenshot of a campaign text message publicizing the fake website.

Some voters within the district, which leans heavily Democratic, have also reported receiving text messages promoting the site’s endorsement of Mack Miller. One read: “Finally! A candidate we ALL support. Mack Miller for Assembly, endorsed by the Republicans and Democrats.” The text included a link to the fake Democratic Chamber of Commerce’s website. Another text message read: “Wow! Debates over, I’m Mack Miller your AD5 Advocate and now endorsed by Democrats also. TOGETHER we win!”

Attempts by the Current to reach Miller via phone, email and Twitter were unsuccessful.

The website is sparse on content and contains no contact information. A blurb on the homepage notes Nevada Democratic Chamber of Commerce members “champion big, bold ideas. We fight for strong neighborhood schools, higher incomes, and an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. We believe in a fair shot for all.”

The same language appears word-for-word on the official website of the Texas Democratic Party.

Other wording on the fake chamber’s website appears to be plagiarized from other websites. Most ironically, two of the statements — “Your candidate has been part of this community for many years, working tirelessly to make it a better place” and “Your candidate can’t win this race without your help. Flyering, word-of-mouth, and donating are all ways of helping us achieve our goals together” — are quoted in an April 2020 San-Diego Union Tribune article about a fake campaign website for a city council candidate there.

Only two photos appear on the site, one is an AFP/Getty Images taken in February before the Nevada Democratic caucus. It features an Elvis impersonator walking by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The other is a cropped photo of Biden and his running mate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

The site features only one subpage: 2020 Endorsed Candidates.

Mack Miller is one of two Republicans running for the Nevada Legislature featured on that fake endorsement list. Republican Heather Florian, who is running against Democrat Venicia Considine in Assembly District 18, is the other. Like Miller, Florian is running in a heavily Democratic district.

florian fb post
Heather Florian, a Republican candidate in Assembly District 18, shared a fake endorsement on her campaign’s social media page. The post has since been edited to remove the fake Democratic Chamber of Commerce.

Florian shared the fake endorsement on her campaign Facebook page alongside an endorsement from a group called the Republican Chamber of Commerce: “So excited to get both these endorsements. You have a person that everyone supports!!”

In an emailed statement to the Current, Florian said she immediately removed that post and other mentions of the endorsement after being alerted that it was possibly fake.

“I have received prior endorsements without having a interview or questionnaire to fill out,” she explained. “This is a first run for me, so there are many things I am learning, but I usually always check the background on the endorsement. This isn’t something I take lightly and am disappointed in the fact someone did this to some of the candidates running, including me.”

A RepublicanChamberOfCommerce.com website was created within minutes of the creation of the fake Democratic Chamber of Commerce website, according to the domain name registration database ICAAN. The Republican Chamber of Commerce’s website notes it is not affiliated with the Republican National Committee and is more robust than the Democratic Chamber of Commerce website. It lists a physical address and phone number, has its own email address, and includes a more fleshed out endorsement list. The website is selling membership packages and has a social media presence on Facebook, where it is listed as a “social club.” A recent post on the Facebook page notes Mack Miller is a member.

The Current has reached out to the Republican Chamber of Commerce for comment.

Miller is no stranger to controversy. When he ran for the Assembly District 5 seat two years ago, it came to light through court documents reported on by the Review-Journal that a military court had found him guilty of desertion during the Iraq War in 2007. He also pleaded guilty for impersonating a police officer in 2017, according to the article.

Also endorsed on the fake Democratic chamber website is Katie Williams, the outspoken conservative running for the nonpartisan Clark County School Board. Williams on Tuesday tweeted about the endorsement, posting, “As an active conservative running this was a surprise, but I think it goes to show that our district is in trouble and even the Democrats want the extremism to go away!”

She has since removed the social media post.

“I have come to learn that one organization whose web endorsement was sent to me is not a real organization,” Williams said in an emailed statement to the Current. “I was skeptical of this endorsement from the beginning, which is why I approached this without great fanfare and with a little humor. Like many of the other candidates this organization purported to endorse, I have had multiple endorsements come in from organizations I am not always intimately familiar with. My surprise at this was echoed by fellow candidates Lisa Guzman, Alexis Salt, and Tameka Henry. It is regrettable that some would find this sort of deception to be acceptable. I have removed the social media post about this false endorsement.”

Guzman, Salt and Henry were also listed on the fake chamber’s website and quickly noted on social media that they knew nothing about the supposed organization.

A spokesperson from the Secretary of State’s office said it has not received any complaints about the website.

Williams and Mack Miller do appear to know each other. On the same day she posted the fake endorsement, Williams shared a photo of herself and Miller standing in front of a Trump campaign sign. That post has since been deleted.

The Democratic Chamber of Commerce website also endorses Republican Kevin Williams in his attempt to unseat Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick in District B. Several third-party candidates are also listed: Independent American Party Kamau Bakari in Congressional District 1, Libertarian Jonathan Esteban in Congressional District 4, independent Sayed Zaidi in Nevada State Assembly District 42 and Independent David Washington in Clark County Commission District B. Independent American Party candidate Jonathan Fredrich, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Rochelle Nguyen in Nevada State Assembly District 10, also appears on the list, however his name is listed as “Jonathan Fredrich Nguyen.”

The fake chamber’s website also endorses several Democratic candidates, including a few in districts seen as highly competitive. Cheryl Bruce, executive director for the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus, had not heard of the organization and was unaware of their candidates being endorsed. Similarly, a spokesperson for the Nevada State Democratic Party said her team is not familiar with any such organization. The Current has reached out to the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus for comment but has not received a response.

The Current found no mention of the fake website’s endorsement on the social media pages of any of the independent or Democratic candidates.

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the Secretary of State’s office and candidate Heather Florian.]

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.