Updated 4 pm ET, Tuesday, December 3
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) isn’t catching a break from the users of social news website Reddit. “Operation Pull Ryan,” a grassroots online campaign to unseat Ryan in his 2012 re-election bid, is gaining strength on Reddit.
On Sunday, Ryan’s challenger, Democratic candidate Rob Zerban, took to Reddit to thank users for helping him raise $15,000 in 48 hours.
“I can’t thank you enough,” Zerban’s post read. “While $15,000 is nothing compared to the millions of Wall Street dollars Paul Ryan has in his war chest, it has gone a long way to help me DESTROY my year-end fundraising goal.”
There’s an irony to the success, as Reddit users launched the campaign against Ryan over a seeming misunderstanding over at least one of Ryan’s policy positions.
Ryan was selected as a primary “target” in a Reddit comment thread started December 28 to identify and take down Congressional supporters of two pieces of controversial legislation: 1.) The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Obama signed into law over the weekend despite “serious reservations” over provisions allowing advanced interrogation and indefinite detention of terror suspects, and 2.) the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the House’s version of an increasingly reviled bill still working its way through the Congressional machinery, that, if passed into law, would give the government more power to block foreign websites based on piracy complaints.
Questioned by Reddit users, Zerban came out vehemently against SOPA and even followed through on a related protest against former SOPA-supporting domain registrar company GoDaddy.com, transferring his domain away from GoDaddy.
The only problem is, although Ryan did vote in favor of the NDAA, he hasn’t actually thrown his hat in with the SOPA supporters or the detractors, as his office quickly pointed out last week in a Facebook statement:
“Contrary to false reports, Congressman Paul Ryan is not a cosponsor of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. He remains committed to advancing policies that protect free speech and foster innovation online and will continue to follow the House Judiciary Committee’s deliberations on this issue carefully.”
The confusion might have stemmed from a letter sent earlier from Paul Ryan’s office to a constituent, explaining that Ryan was looking into the matter, as The Atlantic Wire’s John Hudson theorizes.
Although Reddit users openly deliberated on the website’s “Operation Pull Ryan” webpage whether or not to proceed following Ryan’s statement, the moderators of the group eventually elected to plow ahead, as they explained in a statement posted online and in an email to TPM.
“The [Reddit] consensus is that Paul Ryan is ‘too afraid to give a straight answer’, and that his opponent, Rob Zerban, alternatively, has offered a fairly straight-forward answer, addressing the nuances of the issue,” one of the Reddit leaders of “Operation Pull Ryan” said in an email to TPM.
Zerban, a previously little-known Wisconsin county supervisor whose campaign against Ryan has been called a “long shot” by Politico, is undoubtedly benefitting not only financially, but gaining crucial media exposure thanks to the involvement of Reddit.
After Zerban participated in an “IAmA” (“I am, ask me anything”) online Q-and-A session on Reddit, outlets including The Atlantic Wire and the International Business Times pointed to his candidacy as the latest example of the evolution of online political involvement (from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit to whatever is next).
Reddit users participating in “Operation Pull Ryan” have also invited Ryan to participate in an “IAmA” session, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will take them up on it.
We’ve reached out to Ryan’s and Zerban’s offices for more information and will update when we hear back.
Late update: Rob Zerban answered TPM’s questions about the role Reddit has played in his campaign with a lengthy response, provided via email by a Zerban spokesperson. Zerban elaborates on a number of intriguing matters in his response, telling TPM that the $15,000 raised by Reddit is only a drop in the bucket in his overall fundraising effort for the fourth quarter of 2011, which is due to be published soon, a stark contrast to the dire financial straits that Politico said characterized Zerban’s campaign earlier in August 2011.
In addition, Zerban admits that he hadn’t heard of Reddit until he was contacted by the “Operation Pull Ryan” supporters, but states he has readily (no pun intended) embraced the website now, drawing a political parallel to Reddit’s system of “upvoting” posts.
“There is something very endearing about a paradigm in which the consumers are the producers and all members have the same influence: 1 vote,” Zerban wrote to TPM.
Here’s Zerban’s statement in full:
I have always work my hardest to be accessible and give straight answers. We need our representatives to be open and honest with the people, and that has not happened with Paul Ryan. I am happy to engage the people in any venue, whether it be in person here in the 1st District of Wisconsin or, increasingly, online.
On Wednesday afternoon of last week I received a few emails from individuals identifying themselves are members of reddit community, requesting my position on SOPA. Shortly thereafter we began to receive more emails and then phone calls from redditors encouraging me to participate in an AMA session. I was unfamiliar with reddit prior to this. The AMA session began around 7pm CST, hitting #1 on the front page a few minutes later, and we immediately experienced a surge of online contributions. In addition to donations we received hundreds of emails from redditors offering words of encouragement and signing up to volunteer; our social media presence also greatly expanded, adding a significant number of Facebook and Twitter followers.
My finance staff estimated we raised $5,000 from redditors within the first 36 hours. I returned to reddit to thank them for the experience and to let them know what a great help they had been… and then they donated another $10,000! Many redditors have requested we create a dedicated donation page to track their efforts, and we are currently exploring that option.
(For clarification, allow me to state that I’ve raised significantly more than $15,000 in my campaign to defeat Paul Ryan in 2012. Reddit’s fundraising efforts came on the heels of my campaign’s strongest fundraising quarter to date. These numbers will become public information shortly when I file my quarterly report with the FEC later this month.)
Reddit is a well-educated, well-informed, community of highly-talented, eclectic and wildly hilarious individuals. There is something very endearing about a paradigm in which the consumers are the producers and all members have the same influence: 1 vote. The person that wants to draw attention to legislation, or world events, or scientific breakthroughs has no more leverage than the person that wants to draw attention to funny pictures of cats. Reddit is not only changing the way we receive information and interact but increasingly the way mainstream media reacts. Reddit has demonstrated it is capable of organizing people to act for a common goal, whether it is raising awareness about an issue, raising money for charity or initiating boycotts against major corporations. These are the same basic metrics by which political campaigns are measured: the ability to earn media, the ability to raise funds and the ability to initiate activism. Reddit can become a very powerful political force, if it so chooses. I look forward to keeping the lines of communication with reddit open and continuing to earn their support.
We’re still awaiting a response from Rep. Ryan’s office, which has begun tweeting again after a holiday break, basking in the glow of various magazine awards that Ryan won in 2011.