Other news organizations have raised concerns about the political orientation of some websites. However, the extent of the deception has been hidden for years by confidentiality agreements for writers and a confusing network of companies that run the newspapers. These companies have received at least $ 1.7 million from political campaigns and conservative Republican groups, according to tax records and campaign financial reports. These are the only payments that could be tracked in public records.
The editors of Mr. Timpone's network outsource work to freelancers in the United States and abroad, often paying $ 3 to $ 36 per job. The assignments usually include precise instructions on who to interview and what to write, according to internal correspondence. In some cases these instructions are written by the clients on the network, which are sometimes the subject of the articles.
The emails showed a seller for Mr. Timpone's websites offering a potential customer a $ 2,000 package that contained five articles and unlimited press releases. The seller emphasized that reporters would be in charge of some items while the customer would have a say in others.
Ian Prior, a Republican agent, was behind articles about Ms. Gideon, the Maine Senate candidate, and articles promoting Senators Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Roy Blunt from Missouri, according to internal records. Mr. Prior previously worked for the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that spent $ 9.7 million on Ms. Gideon.
Juan David Leal, who worked in the Mexican office of Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm, ordered articles criticizing the Mexican government's response to the coronavirus.
And employees of the Illinois Opportunity Project, a Conservative advocacy group, requested dozens of articles on certain Illinois Republican politicians. The group paid $ 441,000 to Mr. Timpone's businesses, according to the nonprofit's tax records.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Collins, the Maine Senator, said the campaign answered questions "from all media and persuasion," including the Maine Beacon, a local news agency funded by a Democratic group.