Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign seemingly hit up one Texan’s phone to ask if he’d help cart undocumented immigrants to the polls during the midterm elections — when Beto hopes to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz — and it seemed a bit sketchy, to say the least.
“Would you be able to support this grassroots effort?” read a text sent by “Patsy” with Beto For Texas, according to a screenshot sent to the Washington Post. The recipient, Frank Freeman, a Beto supporter from Houston, told the Post that such texts often come from different volunteers, and that he sometimes replies.
Later, Freeman got another text: “Hi Frank, this is Katrien the Texting Team manager on the Beto for Texas campaign," it read. "An impostor signed up to be a volunteer on our texting team and texted you today with a message that was not approved by the campaign. We're very sorry about this."
Voters are quickly becoming accustomed to the barrage of conversational, sometimes annoying and mostly unregulated text messages sent by political campaigns, often asking whether they can “count on your vote” while offering quick reminders on elections and initiatives.
Peer-to-peer texting platforms can be a useful political tactic. They allow campaigns to get in touch with tens of millions of people, and the method was partially pioneered by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign. But the federal government isn’t sure how to regulate them, potentially opening up texting to unaccountable money and suspicious texts. Campaigns, political action groups, grassroots groups and party organizations might send well over 100 million text messages this midterm cycle.
“The problem with outdated laws is that unscrupulous people are going to use the loopholes,” Gigi Sohn, the former senior adviser to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, previously told VICE News “The FCC has to put some strong rules around peer-to-peer texting, and I think the responsible companies will welcome them.”
O’Rourke’s campaign uses Relay, a peer-to-peer texting service, according to the Washington Post. Relay is one of the more popular networks used by campaigns; volunteers and campaigns have sent over 80 million texts this cycle through Relay and another service called Hustle. Relay told the Washington Post that the texter-in-question wasn’t affiliated with them.
A campaign spokesperson told the Washington Post that the “impostor” send two separate texts on Wednesday, including one that was polling voters about their views on socialism. The campaign cut off that person’s access and is looking into how the incident occurred. The campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.
Cover image: U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, speaks at a town hall event at the Grand Texan Hotel Convention Center Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Midland, Texas. (James Durbin/Reporter-Telegram via AP)