New Database Tracks Trump, Biden Ad Buys on Google, Facebook

September 9, 2020 Updated: September 9, 2020

Opensecrets.org, a pioneer in bringing transparency to money in politics, has unveiled a new database that tracks campaign ads placed on Facebook and Google by more than 80,000 candidates and groups supporting them.

“Earlier this year, we made a promise that with your support we would expand our capacity to track online ads and deliver to you a searchable, sortable online ads database that includes all the nitty-gritty details about political ad spending on Google and Facebook,” Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) Executive Director Sheila Krumholz said in a statement on Sept. 9 announcing the database.

“Promise fulfilled. OpenSecrets has launched a comprehensive database that is now tracking over 80,000 online political advertisers—more than four times the number of committees registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC),” Krumholz said.

The Facebook data displayed on the database begins Jan. 1, 2020, while the Google data displayed starts May 27, 2018.

Opensecrets.org is CRP’s website launched in 1996 to track federal campaign contributions by individuals and political action committees. The site also tracks the “revolving door” of individuals going between positions in government and special interest lobbying groups.

The digital ads database tracks total spending by candidates and supporters over time on Facebook and Google, as well as copies of the page or video of and information about each ad. Total Facebook spending by state also is compiled, Krumholz said.

The database was built as a joint project between CRP, the Wesleyan Media Project, and the New York University Online Political Ads Transparency Project.

The latest data compiled for the digital political ads database show President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Google and Facebook, even as multiple groups supporting their respective candidacies pour millions of dollars more into such advocacy.

The Trump total through the week of Aug. 16 is more than $151 million, with $68 million going to Google and the balance of $83 million to Facebook. Groups supporting Trump spent another $13.7 million.

The Trump campaign spent $8.2 million on Google and $9.2 million on Facebook inserts during the week of Aug. 16. The database shows how many days a specific ad was posted, as well as the date and time it was first posted and when it was taken down.

The database also includes the cost of the ad, how many impressions it generated, the targeting criteria used in its placement, and the geographic area of computer screens on which it was displayed.

The figures for Biden include $76.9 million spent by the candidate’s committee, supplemented by an additional $31 million in advertising purchased by supportive groups. Google got $25.9 million of the Biden dollars, while Facebook received $51 million.

The Biden campaign, however, spent only $4.1 million on Google during the week of Aug. 16. That was the campaign’s highest weekly total on Google, but it equaled only half of Trump’s digital advertising spending there for the same seven days.

The digital ads database comes at a time when social media campaign advertising is displacing traditional television spots as the key to raising campaign dollars and winning votes.

The Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for example, said Sept. 3 they raised $365 million in August alone, with most of the total coming from small donors in response to digital appeals.

Trump’s 2016 social media campaign manager Brad Parscale told a tech conference in 2017 that Facebook was critical to the president’s win from early on in its activities when funds were scarce, and a quick infusion was desperately needed.

“Facebook allowed us to do that in alarming numbers very fast,” Parscale said, according to CNET.

But it wasn’t just Facebook that got a chunk of the Trump campaign’s millions of dollars spent on social media outreach.

“Facebook wanted that money, Twitter wanted that money, Snapchat, Google. … they were all wanting to have that money,” Parscale said.

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc