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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

An investigation by fact-checking company Snopes finds that a series of seemingly innocuous local websites, which have popped up all over the country, are being run by GOP consultants whose businesses are funded in part by candidates the websites cover.

Why it matters: The consultants setting up these websites, first reported last year by Politico, are expanding their efforts to more battleground states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

  • They claim that the sites are funded by ads. But the Snopes investigation found that the websites are often supported by wealthy benefactors.

Details: Michael Patrick Leahy, a Tea Party-connected conservative activist that is tied to one of the sites, Tennessee Star, wrote in an email to Snopes: "We are in business to make a profit, and have a number of advertisers to prove it."

  • But Snopes found that Tennessee Star runs ads from political groups such as the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity and local GOP fundraisers.

The big picture: It's difficult to draw a line between political activism and journalism in the digital era, in part because activists have gotten so good at using technology to blur lines by creating news outlets that look impartial. 

  • Earlier reports have uncovered many of these efforts, and there isn't much framework in place to stop them from spreading.
  • While Congress has invested countless hours grilling tech companies about foreign meddling, far less attention has been paid to these types of misinformation efforts. 

Go deeper: The rise of the pro-Trump media machine

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and to lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro, California, in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.