Craigslist Used To Round Up Fake Supporters For Political Causes

New Craiglist ad wants to “fill a ballroom event” with people of “any race”

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The nonprofit jobs section of D.C.'s Craiglist put an odd ad out on Sunday.

"Looking to fill a ballroom event (Capital hill)...paying 25.00...Any race, female prefered."

When Whispers E-mailed the posting, a "Jack Wolcowitz" responded that the ballroom event is actually a congressional hearing for Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jewish businessman who was arrested in Bolivia without being charged last year. Wolcowitz told Whispers he is a family member of Ostreicher's.

He was compelled to write the ad, he said, after the office of New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith told the family that if the hearing room is full "it can give off more of an impression." Smith chairs the House panel overseeing international human rights.

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Wolcowitz said he plans to pay about 30 people from D.C. to show up and act the part of supporters, of which he says he already has about 25.

The ad called for females, Wolcowitz said, because Smith's office told the family: "Don't make this a Jewish event. It's better to make it look libertarian. And try to get as many women as you can."

Jeff Sagnip, a spokesman for Rep. Smith, told Whispers he talked to the family directly and "I didn't say any of those things."

Sagnip said he did tell the family, however, that a full hearing room would be better than an empty one. "I think they might be doing some community organizing," he said.

The hearing takes place Wednesday at 10 a.m. It will be held in the Rayburn Building, which does not look anything like a ballroom.

This isn't the first time Craigslist has been used to get warm bodies for political punch.

Last month, a coal group reportedly posted a Craigslist ad offering people $50 to wear pro-coal T-shirts at an Illinois EPA meeting. The posting was later deleted, but nonpartisan investigative website the Republic Report grabbed it. On Twitter, there have long been reports of of political "astroturfing," or fake grassroots campaigns, being orchestrated by bots.

Whispers also hears that these kind of deals are taking place outside the online world. Yesterday, a DC-based PR firm wanted to impress a potential big client coming to town. So, it hired temps to fill up empty seats in the office. No word on how well the meeting went over.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.