Text messages from ‘Laura’ sent to Adam Frugoli and Bryan Zollinger supporters. | Courtesy images
IDAHO FALLS — A supposed local teacher named Laura has been texting people asking them to support Kevin Cook for state senate or Marco Erickson for the house.
It seems teacher “Laura” may be a bot, and no one claims to know who’s programming her.
Last weekend, many Idaho Falls-area voters received text messages from a person saying their name was Laura, a teacher in the Idaho Falls area. Laura asked them if they had received their absentee ballot. Once the person responded, Laura would ask them to support Cook or Erickson respectively.
Cook is running against Adam Frugoli in the District 30 Senate race. Erickson is running against incumbent Rep. Bryan Zollinger in the District 33 Seat B House race. All four candidates are running in the May 19 Republican primary.
After Frugoli and Zollinger supporters received the text messages from Laura, they reached out to the candidates to tell them what they had been sent.
“As we started going through this, we looked at it and went ‘oh my gosh, this is not real. This is not a real person,’” Frugoli told EastIdahoNews.com.
Frugoli said he told his supporters to respond to the text with “STOP” in all caps. When the supporter did this, he received a message saying they had successfully unsubscribed.
“I think this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen happen,” Frugoli said.
He said his biggest concerns, besides mass text messages in support of his opponent going to voters, are that those messages didn’t have any disclaimer about who was paying for them or even what company was being used to send them.
“We’re seeing that this is the kind of stuff that Russia was doing to influence our election,” Frugoli said.
But Cook and Erickson say they have no knowledge of where the messages came from.
“We haven’t done anything with robocalls or robots or bot texting. Nothing, absolutely nothing. That’s not our campaign,” Cook said.
Erickson said he received one of the text messages himself and thought it was odd, but nice that he had supporters sending messages to voters.
Text message from ‘Laura.’ | Courtesy image
“I have no knowledge, in any way, where it came from,” Erickson said.
Erickson said his campaign has primarily focused on connecting with voters through social media.
“I reached out to call people myself. But our tactic has been just through social media,” he said.
Zollinger said he doesn’t know who is behind the text messages but suggested it could be Democrats.
“It’s a tactic we’ve seen Democrats use,” Zollinger said. “I know we have people switching parties always in the Republican primary. My opponent is supported by several Democrats.”
Zollinger said he is disappointed that someone would do this.
“It looks like somebody’s violating campaign finance laws,” he said.
Both Zollinger and Frugoli posted screenshots to their campaign Facebook pages of some of the text messages their supporters received.
“This is a despicable tactic and I fully condemn this illegal ‘Russian-style’ campaigning from my opponent,” Frugoli wrote in a Facebook post on May 2.
Zollinger made a smilier post on his page.
“(1) The teacher’s union says it was not them, they ‘don’t deploy illegal bots to spam and deceive voters.’ (2)’Laura’ here is not a teacher, nor is she from Idaho Falls. (3) someone is apparently trying hard to conceal the truth,” Zollinger wrote on May 3.
Cook also took to social media comparing Frugoli’s accusations on Facebook to the Russian collusion investigation into President Donald Trump.
“Mr. Frugoli, neither I nor my campaign team have been involved in any campaign texting. And I have certainly not colluded with the Russians,” Cook said in a Facebook video posted May 6.