By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Mar. 16, 2020) — A week after the election, it seems it wasn’t advertising or organizers on the ground that helped Joe Biden achieve a decisive victory against Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s presidential primary.
But if Facebook was any prelude to what Michiganders can expect in the general election in November, dark money organizations could be flooding news feeds. Ten organizations with undisclosed funding spent more than $400,000 from March 4 through March 11, according to the social media platform’s voluntary disclosures.
The two candidates left in the Democratic primary both received significant support on Facebook from organizations that don’t disclose their funding sources. And in the week leading up to the primary they represented some of the biggest spenders advertising on Facebook in Michigan.
A super PAC aligned with the former vice president, Unite The Country, spent $112,000 in the week before the primary on Facebook ads, making it the largest advertiser in Michigan in that time period. (Report contiues after the break.)
While their campaigns spent nearly identical amounts on television advertising, about $1.2 million each, Unite The Country spent about $500,000 running a single ad more than 300 times in Detroit and Flint, giving Biden the edge.
Center Action Now, another dark money group, spent about $35,000 supporting Biden on the social media platform in the week before the election. And two other pages spent considerable amounts attacking Sanders, The Big Tent Project Fund and United We Succeed, calling Sanders a socialist and claiming his policies will necessitate the “biggest middle class tax hike since WWII.” According to the United We Succeed website, the two groups have partnered on the anti-Sanders campaign. Some of their ads have been found to be misleading, and flagged by Facebook itself.
Though Sanders’ pledge to reject Super PAC support hasn’t held since January, a dark money organization of a different sort assisted him in Michigan. The Center for Popular Democracy’s 501(c)(4) affiliate spent nearly $55,000 in Facebook ads targeting African American and Latino voters. United We Succeed also targeted Latino voters with ads in Spanish. (Report contiues after the break.)
Bloomberg’s spending, however, remains the most extraordinary financial story of Michigan’s primary season. In total he spent nearly $12.3 million on television advertising, an unprecedented sum in the state for a presidential primary. It was about three-fourths of all primary ad spending, even though he left the race more a week before voters went went to the polls, when most spending in the state usually takes place. Yet the extraordinary level of visibility his spending provided clearly had an effect as he finished with nearly 5% of the vote.
In total, more than $17 million was spent on television advertising for the presidential primary.