The Environmental Protection Agency broke the law with a social media campaign that crossed the line into lobbying and “covert propaganda,” according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan investigative office employed by Congress.
The report details a social media campaign mounted by the EPA to raise awareness and support for a rule, proposed by the Obama administration, intended to protect wetlands from development and pollution. The campaign also encouraged the public to post comments on a draft version of the “Waters of the United States” rule proposal.
The rule is controversial, as opponents say it would dramatically expand the amount of regulation governing even small bodies of water, for example ponds, ditches and irrigation channels found on farmland. The EPA mounted the campaign, whose social media element was called “I Choose Clean Water” and included messages on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, amid growing opposition from Republicans in Congress.
The GAO report found that the EPA’s social effort violated rules that forbid federal agencies from engaging in lobbying in support of particular policies.
The GAO report also noted that the EPA linked to other lobbying organizations: “We conclude that EPA violated the anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts for FY 2015 when it obligated and expended funds in connection with establishing the hyperlinks to the webpages of environmental action groups.”
An EPA spokeswoman responded: “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities. At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”