Deceptive political campaigns were enough for Facebook to ban newly elected Arizona State Representative Jake Hoffman's digital marketing firm from its service and for Twitter to permanently suspend his personal account. However, they do not seem to have been enough to stop House Republicans from appointing the Queen Creek Republican as second-in-command of a committee that oversees Arizona elections.
Hoffman will serve as the vice-chair of the Arizona House of Representative's Government and Elections Committee for the upcoming legislative session, according to a list of committee assignments announced by House Speaker Rusty Bowers today. Hoffman is also assigned to the Appropriations Committee, although not in a leadership role.
The vice-chair is part of the leadership of a committee and is usually in charge of the committee when the chair is absent. Past issues the elections committee has considered have included whether names should be purged from early-voter lists and whether mail-in ballots could be dropped off at polling locations.
"Incoming Representative Hoffman was duly elected by the voters in LD12 and will bring experience to the Government & Elections Committee with his previous elected service on the Queen Creek Town Council and Higley School Board," said Andrew Wilder, the Republican Majority Caucus' communications director, in an emailed response to Phoenix New Times.
Hoffman did not respond to an email or a voicemail left at the number on his candidate registration — the fourth voicemail from New Times he's ignored since September. The contact information for his legislative office is not listed yet.
In September, the Washington Post reported that Hoffman's digital marketing company Rally Forge employed a cell of teenagers who spammed social media with identical messages in support of President Donald Trump. Among the messages were those seeking to discredit results of the upcoming election by spreading conspiracy theories about mail-in and missing ballots.
The effort was run at the direction of an affiliate of Turning Point USA, a national conservative youth group based in Phoenix that has been involved in spreading baseless conspiracy theories in the wake of the election. Hoffman also ran a 2016 pro-Trump super PAC funded solely by billionaire Andrew Beal, which paid Hoffman's firm $316,000 to produce conspiratorial memes attacking Hillary Clinton, CNBC reported.
A Stanford University analysis of the Rally Forge-linked accounts found that the company had engaged in "astroturfing," establishing fake social media accounts for both people and organizations in order to promote political positions. The efforts included using computer-generated accounts, profile pictures, and shared memes in support of hunting and right-wing causes.
State Representative Athena Salman, who was a ranking Democrat on the elections committee last session, called Hoffman's appointment "very concerning."
"That is the equivalent of letting the fox guard the henhouse," she told New Times.
House Democrats have not announced committee assignments yet, but Salman said she isn't concerned about raising issues regarding a potential colleague.
"The fact is Facebook and Twitter banned both his accounts [for elections issues]," Salman said. As the state grapples with rampant conspiracy theories around the presidential election, including those spread by leading Republican elected representatives, she said it appears Republicans are rewarding someone who has promoted that misinformation.
"It definitely doesn't install public faith in the process," she said.
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