Should politicians be able to pay citizens for their support? That is a valid question and was recently asked regarding the uproar over Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. During the period when millions of Americans were calling in to their representatives and begging them to oppose the confirmation of DeVos, it seems that someone from the other side decided to purchase support for DeVos on websites that give their users rewards in return for completing tasks.
InstaGC, Swagbucks, and Covet Fashion users have reported that someone was paying for the support of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education according to a Vox report. Both InstaGC and Swagbucks reward their users with gift cards based on an accumulation of points for completing tasks that are offered up on their websites. Usually, those tasks consist of visiting websites or completely surveys. In the case of DeVos, the task was to fill out a contact form that would then be sent to members of Congress in support of Best DeVos’ confirmation. Covet Fashion is a mobile game where players can also complete tasks to earn in-game rewards rather than paying for them. It was reported that Covet Fashion was linking to a Support DeVos website that also would reward them for completing the Congress contact forms in support of the newly confirmed Secretary of Education.
Based on the comments on Reddit, there was no option to earn rewards just for completing the contact form and sending it off. Only those who offered up words of support for DeVos were rewarded. Others reported that they did fill out the contact form but voiced objections to the scheme or asked that Congress vote against her were not rewarded for their efforts. That hasn’t stopped them from voicing their disappointment and concern that such websites are now being used to garner political support, especially since there has been so much uproar over the idea of having Betsy DeVos in charge of education in the U.S.
After learning of the pay-for-support scheme to get Betsy DeVos confirmed by Congress, there was quite an outcry over what seemed to be a breach of ethics with the Secretary of Education’s campaign for approval. Representatives for InstaGC and Covet Fashion have both confirmed that those tasks have been removed. However, how much damage has already been done in the time they were actively paying people to contact Congress on her behalf?
Another question that seems to remain unanswered is who is paying for the Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education campaign? The ads placed with the rewards websites claim that it was funded by American Federation for Children, an organization that DeVos both funded and chaired in the past. Representatives of both DeVos and the AFC have made it clear that they did not pay for the promotion. It was also confirmed that ads on both InstaGC and Covet Fashion were paid for by third party vendors, likely to keep the identity of the DeVos supporter hidden.
Using sites like InstaGC and Swagbucks as well as mobile apps like Covet Fashion and other games that reward users with in-game play credits in return for completing tasks is relatively new to politics. There have been questions raised about whether or not paying for support on that level is ethical. Others have voiced concern that paying for support through task-based websites is more than unethical, they are calling it fraud. After all, what good is it for actual concerned citizens to take the time to contact their Congressperson if the other side is just going to pay those who may not even know who Betsy DeVos is to campaign in her favor?
In the wake of the paid support controversy, InstaGC did issue a statement regarding the Betsy DeVos campaign on Facebook.
“A couple days ago, a paid task was circulating around that rewarded users to push their support for a certain political representative. We want to make it clear to everyone that in the future these types of tasks will be flagged and screened to not be added or removed quickly if they do get added. We have requested that any incentive instaGC was set to receive for this promotion to not be paid to us.”
This begs the question, is it unethical or fraudulent to use websites such as the ones mentioned above in order to garner support for a political candidate or a presidential appointee? In the case of Betsy DeVos, the Congressional vote to approve her appointment as Secretary of Education was a tie that ultimately was broken by Vice President Mike Pence. If websites and apps like Swagbucks, InstaGC, and Covet Fashion were not used to reward users who sent messages to Congress in support of DeVos, would she have been denied the position amid all the controversy?
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]