Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an incident reported by a Republican state representative candidate concerning information added to an online profile without his consent.
Robert Boettcher, one of two challenging Republican candidates for the District 85 position, contacted officials for election website Ballotpedia.org, where the profile was posted, on Jan. 7 and the posting was removed the same day.
An individual “had put a fake survey in there to try to misrepresent (me) as way more liberal than I actually am,” Boettcher said.
Boettcher says he believes a person linked to incumbent District 85 State Rep. Phil Stephenson’s re-election campaign is responsible. Stephenson, however, says that isn’t true.
Ballotpedia officials verified at least two survey answers were submitted to Boettcher’s profile without his consent.
The first answer was a brief bio stating, “I am a political junky who loves politics. I want to be a career politician who helps people forever. I am an engineer for an oil company as a side job. I believe that government is a tool that helps people.”
The second answer, “Legalizing Marijuana,” was the response listed for areas of public policy Boettcher is passionate about. Boettcher said legalizing marijuana is not an issue he has addressed during his campaign.
“It looks like it was a tactic done directly ... to try and misrepresent me,” Boettcher said.
While Boettcher estimates 100 voters saw the false profile, he said the incident has the potential to impact the perception of thousands of voters.
No suspects have been established and no charges have been filed, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ronald Fields said. FBCSO has not determined if a crime has been committed.
“(Boettcher) has never asked me to look into this or called, emailed or mailed any request to me,” Stephenson said in a statement. “I will not overreact to last minute campaign actions by my opponents ... When (FBCSO’s) investigation is concluded, we should know the appropriate direction to take.”
In 2019, Stephenson was one of 10 targeted state reps in an uncovered plot from Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen to unseat members of the GOP in the 2020 election.
“Every person associated with my campaign was instructed in a December meeting to follow the law, work with high ethical standards and specifically each person was instructed to not engage with any other campaign,” Stephenson said.
Abolaji Ayobami, a Republican candidate from Richmond, is running against Stephenson and Boettcher in the March primary election.
“Politics in America, (are) supposed to not be dirty, but the people that are playing dirty politics affect the lives of everyone,” Ayobami said.
Online impersonation with the “intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person,” is a third degree felony under Texas law. The case is still under investigation.
Ballotpedia has since implemented a survey verification system.
“We regret that we did not institute this verification system sooner,” Ballotpedia Senior Communications Associate Kayla Harris said. “We apologize to Mr. Boettcher and our readers that this erroneous survey appeared on Ballotpedia for seven days.”