Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Political blogger Andre Walker's conflict of interest?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 3:36 PM


A leading Georgia political blogger is being accused of conflicts of interest for doing work for politicians and failing to disclose it. The issue raises a couple of broader questions about ethical standards for political bloggers.

Atlanta Progressive News released an investigative article early this morning that details work done by Georgia Politics Unfiltered's Andre Walker for U.S. Senate candidate Vernon Jones and incumbent Congressman David Scott, as well as a long list of favorable posts on Scott.

According to APN, in campaign disclosures:

The Scott campaign said he’s been receiving monthly payments since the beginning of 2008, suggesting he has received additional payments since the campaign’s last filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

When asked by email what the payments were for, Walker refused to say and referred APN to the Scott and Jones Campaigns.

"I support many candidates and causes and in some cases, I have been paid for my work," Walker wrote to APN in an email.

APN asked Walker whether he thought it was a problem he did not disclose to his blog readers that he was being paid by some of the campaigns at the same time that he was writing positive comments about them.

Walker replied he felt the campaign finance reports filed with the FEC were sufficient disclosure to his readers, even though those readers do not necessarily cross-reference FEC reports every time they read a blog entry.

"Responding to your question of disclosure, any funds that I have received from any candidate, organization or political party is public record and the public record is my full disclosure," Walker said.

In May 2007, decaturguy wrote about a similar issue involving work Walker did in setting up a website for Vernon Jones. Walker addressed the issue on his blog after the decaturguy wrote about it, and my impression is that he's covered the contest for the Democratic nomination for Senate in a fairly even-handed manner (Jones faces Jim Martin in an Aug. 5 runoff). I should also say that Walker's style is relatively more straightforward and informative than heavily opinionated.

But APN says Walker hadn't mentioned the work he did for Scott and published a long list of favorable-sounding headlines involving Scott that appeared on Walker's blog.

In my mind, the article raises a couple of broader questions about potential conflicts of interest and disclosure for a lot of political bloggers.

For example, Walker — a state Democratic committee member — was credentialed last year as a journalist by the Georgia Legislature. Last I checked, he was seeking credentials to cover the National Democratic Convention this month in Denver. At what point should there be a differentiation between journalists who (presumably) avoid conflicts of interests and bloggers who may (or may not) be involved in the process?

Peach Pundit, the state's leading right-leaning political blog (to which Walker contributes), is run by Erick Erickson, who's done some political work and has been a candidate for public office. Erickson and other contributors have at times disclosed their dog in a particular fight when their writing touches on it. But what's the standard for disclosure by political bloggers (or by bloggers about anything)?

For that matter, how can the average reader even tell who bloggers actually are when they use pen names like Rogue109 (another Peach Pundit poster) and decaturguy? It's a principle of the blogosphere that people get to be anonymous. That may be an unavoidable part of the nature of the medium. But if influential bloggers are anonymous, how can you where there bread is buttered?

In a post this morning, Erickson says he knew Walker was doing some consulting work for Scott. He writes that he asked Walker "to refrain from writing about those he might be working against."

It is our policy at Peach Pundit to refrain from writing about candidates we are working for unless we disclose that we are working for him. I apologize that this one got by me. It won’t happen again.

I'm trying to get a hold of Erickson, Walker and others to get some thoughts on this. Meanwhile, I'd love to get thoughts on this from other bloggers and readers.

Here are a couple of disclosures of our own: I've spoken to Walker in the past about possibly contributing to Fresh Loaf, but nothing came of it; we don't allow writers to work for the people they're writing about (except for, I suppose Creative Loafing) and our policy is to disclose anything that might appear to be a conflict of interest. Doesn't that sound high and holy?

UPDATE: Walker says APN took money from candidates also.

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