Posts falsify ties between election tech firm and Democrats
As poll workers tallied votes from the U.S. presidential election, many social media users interpreted a clerk’s error in a small, Republican-leaning Michigan county as vote-rigging because it wrongly favored Joe Biden before being fixed.
A week later, that misinterpreted mistake has snowballed into a deluge of false claims that Democrats have deep ties to Dominion Voting Systems, the company that supplies election equipment to Michigan and dozens of other states nationwide.
Claims that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the Clinton Foundation have interest or influence in Dominion are all unsubstantiated. But that didn’t stop tens of thousands of social media users from amplifying them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week.
Here's what you need to know about the falsehoods spreading around Dominion Voting Systems.
CLAIM: Prominent Democrats including Pelosi, Feinstein and the Clinton family have a stake in or a deep relationship with Dominion Voting Systems, the second-largest voting vendor in the U.S., whose equipment was used in several battleground states in the 2020 election.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Dominion made a one-time philanthropic commitment at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in 2014, but the Clinton Foundation has no stake or involvement in Dominion’s operations, the nonprofit confirmed to The Associated Press. A former aide to Pelosi has represented Dominion as a lobbyist, but so have lobbyists who worked for Republicans. Claims that Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, holds a stake in Dominion are baseless.
THE FACTS: When Michigan’s Antrim County initially reported a landslide win for Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential election, social media users grew suspicious about the Dominion election management system used to tabulate the data.
As it turned out, Dominion was not to blame, according to the Michigan Department of State. "There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error,” County Clerk Sheryl Guy told the AP.
The issue was quickly corrected, and President Donald Trump won a majority of votes in that county. However, in the days since Biden won Michigan and the presidential election, Trump supporters have continually tried to undermine trust in Dominion, which is used in at least 30 states, including key battlegrounds like Georgia.
Several widely shared social media posts this week exaggerated a one-time connection six years ago between Dominion and the Clinton Foundation in order to claim the election software should not be trusted.
“Is it a coincidence that Dominion Voting is in bed with you guessed it... The Clinton Foundation?” read one tweet shared more than 7,000 times.
Some posts shared a screenshot from the Clinton Foundation’s website. It shows that in 2014, at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, Dominion made a philanthropic commitment to donate its election technology to emerging democracies outside the United States as part of a three-year project.
However, that one-time commitment is not proof of any lasting relationship between the Clinton Foundation and Dominion, nor of any foul play in the 2020 election.
The Clinton Foundation told the AP in an email that it does not help fund, receive funding from, or participate in implementing commitments like this one.
“The Clinton Foundation has never had any stake in Dominion Voting Systems; we have never been involved in the company’s operations; and we can confirm that we are not currently working together,” the nonprofit said.
Dominion did donate between $25,001 and $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2014, according to reporting by the Washington Post, but its lobbyists have also donated to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Other social media sleuths pointed to Dominion’s hiring of Nadeam Elshami, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, as part of its lobbying team as alleged evidence of a link between the company and Pelosi.
“What’s the name of the company with all the voting machines that ‘glitch’ to create more votes for Biden? Dominion Voting Systems,” read a tweet from Emerald Robinson, a reporter for the conservative cable network Newsmax. “Who is their DC lobbyist? Nancy Pelosi’s aide.”
It’s true that Elshami is part of a lobbying team representing Dominion, according to public disclosures.
However, that team also includes Brian Wild, who counts Republicans such as former House Speaker John Boehner and former Vice President Dick Cheney among his past bosses.
Jared Thomas, a longtime aide to Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, has also lobbied for Dominion.
A third category of social media posts circulating this week attempted to link Feinstein to Dominion by claiming her husband, investment banker Richard Blum, is a “major shareholder” holding a 60% stake in the company.
“Can someone tell me why Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, owns Avid Technologies (which provides the voting machines for our election)?” read an Instagram post viewed nearly 60,000 times.
In fact, Avid Technology does not provide election software for Dominion or any other company — nor does Blum’s firm currently own a stake in it.
“To officially correct a misconception that arose on Twitter in the last 24 hours, Avid Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVID) definitively states that we do not develop software for vote counting,” AVID wrote in a statement on Twitter on Saturday. “Further, while Blum Capital was an investor in our company, it has no holdings today.”
Dominion did not respond to requests for comment on these claims. It’s privately held and does not disclose its financials. But in an April letter responding to a request by the House Committee on Administration, Dominion CEO John Poulos said Dominion is 75.2% owned by the New York-based private equity firm Staple Street Capital and that he, a Canadian citizen, holds a 12% stake. No other investor owns more than a 5% stake, he said. Staple Street Capital did not return emails and phone calls for this story.
On Saturday, Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, urged Americans to stop spreading baseless claims that minor vote counting issues indicated fraud.
“Seeing #disinfo that some isolated voting day issues are tied to some nefarious election hacking and vote manipulation operation,” Krebs posted on Twitter. “Don’t fall for it and think twice before sharing!”
AP technology writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Boston.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536