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AI: Campaign in 6th Congressional District marred by deepfake on X

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(The Center Square) – First Freedoms Foundation, a political action committee supporting Christian Castelli in the 6th Congressional District Republican primary against former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, is accused of using artificial intelligence to produce fake advertisements.

Contacted by The Center Square, Castelli and his campaign sought distance. The Walker campaign pledged to use legal options. And the custodian of records for the PAC told the news wire service he could not help answer questions.

First Freedoms Foundation appears based in Greensboro. It posted videos to X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, on Tuesday involving excerpts of a conversation between Walker and an “unknown friend.” The audio, dubbed over a video of Walker, said Castelli is better qualified to serve in Congress and predicted his victory.

Castelli, Green Beret while in service and who lost to incumbent Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning in 2022, has said his campaign was not involved in the ads. He has denounced the use of artificial intelligence to manipulate voters as “the next level of dirty politics.”

Campaign spokesman Alfredo Rodriguez told The Center Square, “There are plenty of shortcomings to expose in Mark Walker, his campaign, and his previous work that there is no need to make things up.

“We have five days left until Election Day. Clearly, the political circus of the campaign season is in full swing, deepfakes included. We respect everyone’s decision to exercise their First Amendment rights. Campaigns naturally bring about heated and passionate discussions. We simply believe a criteria for those involved in the political discourse is they act like adults, not children.”

Walker campaign strategist Paul Shumaker said, “The FEC has already made it clear that false AI content violates federal election law and we intend to explore all legal options.”

Shumaker described the videos in a statement as “an egregious use of AI technology that sets an example of what not to do in a campaign.”

Walker posted to X on Wednesday he’s “exploring all legal options on FEC violations.

“These DC special interest groups/PACs have spent over $1 million attacking me with deceptive/fake ads attempting to interfere in our election because they know I am the only one with a proven conservative record who will secure the border,” he wrote. “They know I can’t be bought because they’ve already tried. As the swamp rears its ugly head, thank you for your prayers and support as we battle the elites.”

First Freedoms Foundation PAC lists a Washington, D.C., address on its Federal Elections Commission statement of organization. Paul Kilgore of Athens, Ga., is custodian of records.

The listed telephone for Kilgore went to Professional Data Services, which Kilgore said is a professional organization that offers treasurer services for a variety of campaigns and PACs.

“I’m sorry, I can’t really help you with it,” he told The Center Square when contacted about the ads.

First Freedoms Foundation PAC filed its amended statement of organization on Dec. 11, 2023, listing its depository as First Bank in Greensboro. FEC records through the end of 2023 show the PAC took in $2,025 last year and spent $542.99. Its biggest donor is James Smith, CEO of Carolina Digital Phone in Greensboro, who gave $2,000.

The Center Square was unsuccessful in reaching Smith but did leave a message seeking comment. The First Freedoms Foundation website states its “core mission is to educate the public on the importance of preserving our First Amendment rights and to provide resources for individuals and organizations seeking to exercise their First Amendment freedoms.”

Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, wrote in an email to The Center Square that any potential violations would be handled by the Federal Elections Commission.

“North Carolina has not adopted a law specifically addressing use of AI in political advertisements,” he wrote.

The FEC has banned deepfake robocalls, and is considering regulatory action on a broader rule to regulate the use of generative AI deepfakes in election ads. A decision is expected by the start of summer, according to Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group that petitioned for the action.

“If governmental authorities fail to act, the 2024 election is virtually certain to see a wave of political deepfakes that confuse and defraud voters, swing elections and sow chaos,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said earlier this month. “The good news is that state legislators from both sides of aisle, across the country have recognized the cataclysmic effect deepfakes could have on the integrity of the 2024 election and are rushing to put protections in place.”

Thirty-two states are considering bills to regulate deepfakes in election communications. Five have already enacted legislation, according to the organization.

Walker and Castelli are considered top Republican primary candidates in the 6th Congressional District.

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