Facebook ads for Kavanaugh confirmation targeting swing states
After weeks of turmoil, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Friday.
A number of prominent groups have been spending heavily on Facebook advertisements supporting or opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Most of these ads have been specifically targeting states with senators who have yet to publicly say how they intend to vote.
Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice have been spending the most on ads throughout Kavanaugh’s confirmation, including the time since sexual misconduct allegations came out against the judge. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward a couple of weeks ago alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her while the two were in high school in the 1980s.
Both Ford and Kavanaugh testified last Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A number of other prominent groups have been spending on digital ads, but at a smaller scale: NARAL Pro-Choice America, America First Policies, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and 45Committee.
Most notable, however, may be the thousands of other digital ads opposing or supporting Kavanaugh on Facebook pages that are not household names. Facebook only requires the funders of digital ads purchased on behalf of pages to be subject to a limited outside confirmation of a funder’s identity.
Disclosure of donors spending millions on the Supreme Court is unlikely to dramatically change under a new Federal Election Commission (FEC) guidance, which requires all ‘dark money’ groups that spend at least $250 in independent expenditures to report every donor who gave at least $200 in the past year. Many of these spenders never even report to the FEC.
Without FEC filings, incorporation records, tax documents or other disclosure requirements, it is almost impossible to uncover who is actually behind many of these Facebook ads and who is funding them. Even the most secretive of other politically active groups would be subject to such documents and requirements.
Judicial Crisis Network
Judicial Crisis Network, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, is one of the biggest spenders on both TV and digital ads supporting Kavanaugh.
Judicial Crisis Network has been the predominant ‘dark money’ spender in Supreme Court confirmation fights since it’s launch in 2005, allowing deep-pocketed donors to funnel millions of dollars opposing or supporting judicial nominees.
Recently, the group’s Facebook ads are targeting West Virginia and North Dakota, two red states with Democratic senators: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
Judicial Crisis Network had been targeting Heitkamp before she came forward Thursday and said she’d be voting against Kavanaugh.
One ad used in both states is a video featuring Kavanaugh’s fiery testimony in response to Ford’s allegations. So far, the West Virginia version has made 100,000 to 200,000 impressions, mainly targeting older women. Since Facebook doesn’t list the exact figure spent on an ad, Judicial Crisis Network spent between $1,000 and $5,000 on this ad.
In North Dakota, the same ad has reached fewer people, 50,000 to 100,000 impressions, and has mainly targeted younger men ages 25 to 34 and older women ages 65 and up. Judicial Crisis Network spent between $500 and up to $999 on the ad buy.
Demand Justice, another dark money group, has paid for more ads opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination than any prominent group.
Like Judicial Crisis Network, Demand Justice’s spending would also be considered ‘dark money’ since it does not disclose donors. Demand Justice does not, however, follow the more traditional model of incorporating as a tax-exempt nonprofit organized under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, which would require it to file annual 990 tax returns and potentially other incorporation documents.
Instead, Demand Justice operates as an unincorporated entity organized by a tax-exempt fiscal sponsor. That sponsor is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit named Sixteen Thirty Fund that provides a legal home and steers money from secret donors to more than 40 different unincorporated entities that are consequently not required to file separate tax returns.
This further obscures the spending of entities like Demand Justice that fall under the umbrella of a fiscal sponsor, allowing them to essentially operate without a paper trail.
Demand Justice’s Facebook ads have also targeted certain swing states, but the group’s focus is on Maine and Alaska, which has two moderate Republican senators: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.).
As of October 4, Demand Justice has more active ads on Facebook than Judicial Crisis Network.
The ad used in Maine and Alaska includes audio from a recent President Donald Trump rally where he claims that Ford’s account is full of holes. The president’s remarks play over an image of Ford testifying last week. The main target in Maine is younger people, both male and female.
The ad is no longer active in Alaska, but when it was, it equally targeted men ages 25 to 34 and women ages 18 to 24.
Two other ads circulating Facebook feeds in both states specifically are calling for viewers to ask Collins and Murkowski to vote no on Kavanaugh. Both are heavily targeting women, mainly ages 25 to 34.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights advocacy group, is currently running one ad on Facebook targeting only women throughout the country. The ad is for a petition demanding that Kavanaugh withdraw from the nomination. This ad so far received 1,000 to 5,000 impressions and NARAL spent less than $100 on it.
NARAL previously spent thousands of dollars on now inactive ads about Kavanaugh that were directed mainly at older women in the United States.
Planned Parenthood’s political and advocacy arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is targeting a variety of Facebook users in Maine urging Collins to vote against Kavanaugh. The organization is also targeting younger women throughout the country with an ad claiming Kavanaugh is a threat to Roe v Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
America First Policies, a nonprofit organization that has become the main ‘dark money’ group supporting Trump’s agenda, has also weighed in on the confirmation battle. Before Ford came forward, America First Policies ran ads targeting people in North Dakota and urging them to push Heitkamp to support Kavanaugh. The ad made up to one million impressions and cost between $5,000 and up to $10,000. However, the group has not recently been running Facebook ads.
The ad calling for North Dakota viewers to tell Heitkamp to vote in favor of Kavanaugh mainly targeted younger men.
45Committee, another politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofit supporting Trump that does not disclose its donors, did minimal digital advertising on Kavanaugh and was active before the Ford allegations. The group’s ads targeted younger men and older women.
The American Civil Liberties Union is running ads in Colorado, Alaska and West Virginia against Kavanaugh. The ad is the same in each state: It shows three prominent men, former President Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby and Kavanaugh, denying allegations of improper relations, rape and sexual assault.
In Colorado and West Virginia, the ads are targeting younger men and older women. The Alaska ads mostly target younger men and women of a variety of ages.
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