From Trump to Planned Parenthood, these are the Facebook pages spending the most money on political ads

Facebook/Donald TrumpPresident Trump tweeted this image of his meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the White House on Thursday 19 September 2019.
  • Since Facebook began tracking and publicly reporting which pages pay for political ads in May 2018, more than $US887 million has been spent on Facebook ads about social issues, elections, or politics.
  • Of the 18 biggest spenders on Facebook during that window, about a third are directly affiliated with political candidates’ campaigns, either for 2018 midterms or the 2020 presidential election.
  • Other pages pouring millions into political Facebook ads may come as more of a surprise, including gun-rights activists, animal rights groups, and ExxonMobil.
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Advertisers have purchased more than $US887 million worth of political ads on Facebook since May 2018.

Of that total, at least $US21 million was spent by Facebook’s No. 1 customer for political ads: the campaign to reelect President Donald Trump. But some of the other pages spending the most on political Facebook ads are a bit more surprising.

Available data on political ads on Facebook dates back to May 2018, when the social network started classifying ads about “social issues, elections, or politics.” Advertisers can use Facebook’s trove of user data to target ads to specific demographics, including political affiliation, location, gender, and age.

Facebook has published information about political ads in an effort to be more transparent after it received blowback for its role in spreading false or misleading information that aimed to influence the 2016 election.

The company is still under fire for how it handles political ads. The tech giant has said it will not fact-check political candidates’ ads, prompting outrage from lawmakers and Facebook’s own employees alike. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has maintained that the policy is rooted in free speech values.

It’s also not entirely clear how Facebook determines which ads are about “social issues, elections, or politics.” Earlier this month, Facebook temporarily blocked an LGBTQ health clinic from advertising HIV prevention medicine because it said the page was not authorised to buy political ads.

We compiled a list of Facebook’s biggest political ad buyers based on information from its ad archive. The list of the biggest spenders paints a picture of how politicians and special interests are using the platform to influence policy and sway public opinion.


19. National Republican Congressional Committee

Susan Walsh/AP PhotoPresident Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner in Washington, April 2, 2019.

Total amount spent: $US3,054,144

Number of ads bought: 9,015

The NRCC buys ads supporting Republican candidates that aren’t officially endorsed by those candidates. Many of its recent ads are focused on reelecting Trump in 2020.


18. MoveOn.org Political Action

Total amount spent: $US3,076,264

Number of ads bought: 3,426

MoveOn.org Political Action is a progressive PAC that largely supports Democratic candidates. Most of its recent ad buys advocate for impeaching Trump and funding candidates to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.


17. Elizabeth Warren

ReutersFILE PHOTO

Total amount spent: $US3,396,967

Number of ads bought: 18,373

The Senator from Massachusetts has been a vocal critic of Facebook’s ad policies, but that hasn’t stopped her from advertising heavily on the platform. Last month, she ran an ad with intentionally false claims to criticise the platform’s refusal to fact-check political ads.


16. Sierra Club

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US3,482,991

Number of ads bought: 6,037

The Sierra Club aims to raise awareness of environmental issues and advocates for stronger climate protections, making its ads political per Facebook’s policy.


15. Planned Parenthood

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Total amount spent: $US3,514,365

Number of ads bought: 14,777

Many of Planned Parenthood’s recent ad buys focus on protecting abortion rights and promoting their clinics’ services.


14. 4ocean

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US3,654,791

Number of ads bought: 4,290

4ocean is a for-profit company that sells reusable straws, bags, and cups, as well as bracelets made from recycled garbage. It directs some of its profits to ocean cleanup efforts and says its mission is to rid the oceans of plastic.


13. Pete Buttigieg

Associated Press/Charlie NiebergallDemocratic presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Total amount spent: $US3,939,258

Number of ads bought: 31,338

Like most political candidates, most of Buttigieg’s ads target likely supporters and ask for donations.


12. Bernie Sanders

Michael Ainsworth/AP Images

Total amount spent: $US4,132,340

Number of ads bought: 45,740

The Sanders campaign has leveraged its war chest for Facebook ads that target voters across the nation, usually featuring Sanders’ positions on healthcare or global warming.


11. Judicial Watch

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US4,169,628

Number of ads bought: 3,485

Judicial watch is a conservative activist nonprofit that focuses on using Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover records related to liberal lawmakers, such as FBI documents related to Hillary Clinton’s emails.


10. Finance Watchdogs

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US4,477,875

Number of ads bought: 10,630

Finance Watchdogs is a company that offers consulting on credit card debt and mortgages. Unlike other organisations on this list, the company has no explicit political or social agenda, but it frequently uses pro-Trump imagery and messaging in its Facebook ads, targeting likely Trump supporters.


9. PragerU

Turning Point USACharlie Kirk and Dennis Prager.

Total amount spent: $US4,514,913

Number of ads bought: 4,843

PragerU is a right-wing outlet founded by talk show host Dennis Prager whose primary audience is young people. Its largest online presence is its YouTube channel, which has over one billion video views.


8. International Rescue Committee

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US5,168,882

Number of ads bought: 5,439

The IRC is a global nonprofit that aims to assist immigrants and refugees affected by displacement. Like other nonprofits on this list, it uses Facebook ads to promote its accomplishments and solicit donations.


7. ExxonMobil

Total amount spent: $US6,157,428

Number of ads bought: 10,541

In addition to ads about its self-proclaimed efforts to preserve the environment, which Facebook classifies as political, Exxon has run a number of ads urging US residents to call their elected official and advocate for trade agreements that benefit the company.


6. Concealed Online

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US6,247,474

Number of ads bought: 25,244

Concealed Online is a for-profit company that offers online certification for concealed-carry gun permits. Most of its ads ran in the months running up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to WIRED, and capitalised on fears about “mob rule” that would result from Democrats being elected. Facebook has retroactively removed most of the organisation’s ads for violating its policies.


5. Care2

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US6,396,496

Number of ads bought: 16,251

Care2 is a marketing company that attracts people to its site with activism-oriented petitions and offers its clients access to that user base for a price. Facebook ads appear to be one of its primary channels for reaching new users who may be likely to sign petitions – most of its ads feature petitions tied to heart-wrenching stories of animal abuse or injustice.


4. Beto O’Rourke

Associated Press(Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP)

Total amount spent: $US8,154,213

Number of ads bought: 9,642

The bulk of O’Rourke’s Facebook ad buys between May 2018 and today took place in the months leading up to the 2018 midterm election, when he lost a bid for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat.


3. Tom Steyer

Reuters

Total amount spent: $US10,819,656

Number of ads bought: 16,752

Steyer’s Facebook ad buys have been split between his presidential campaign and his Super PAC, Need to Impeach. The billionaire activist’s outsize spending on Facebook ads hasn’t moved the needle much – he’s polling at less than 1% among likely Democrat primary voters.


2. Facebook

Facebook

Total amount spent: $US17,964,964

Number of ads bought: Not disclosed

The second largest buyer of political ads on Facebook is Facebook. The company regularly promotes itself with ads on its own platforms, and a number of those ads – including messages about LGBTQ acceptance, Facebook’s housing charity work in San Francisco, and its announcements regarding its own ad policy – are political.


1. Donald Trump

Jim Urquhart/ReutersAttendees watch a jumbo-tron before a rally by U.S. President Donald Trump in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. October 10, 2019.

Total amount spent: $US21,560,094

Number of ads bought: 286,476

Trump is far ahead of any other 2020 presidential candidate in both fundraising and advertising, and Facebook is no exception. His campaign has repeatedly aired ads that independent fact-checkers determined were false, which Facebook has allowed to remain up.

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