Former Hillary Clinton Chief Strategist Mocks Effectiveness of Russian Facebook Ads

The mainstream media has recently gotten all excited over the discovery that the Russians purchased $100,000 worth of Facebook ads during the 2016 election season. Of course, almost any rational observer would realize that $100,000 is mere chump change in the grand scheme of things during a campaign in which many millions were spent on ads and commercials. 

One person who made a very detailed analysis as to the absurdity of the Russians influencing the U.S. election via those Facebook ads is quite surprising considering his background. It is former 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign chief stragegist Mark Penn who in the October 15 Wall Street Journal mocked the notion of Russian influence via Facebook ads in You Can’t Buy the Presidency for $100,000:

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Americans worried about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election have seized on a handful of Facebook ads—as though there weren’t also three 90-minute debates, two televised party conventions, and $2.4 billion spent on last year’s campaign. The danger is that bending facts to fit the Russia story line may nudge Washington into needlessly and recklessly regulating the internet and curtailing basic freedoms.

Good point, Mark. In fact, the Democrats have already called upon the FEC to regulate online political ads as a result of the revelation about this chump change "bombshell."

Analyzing the pattern of expenditures, and doing some back-of-the-envelope math, it’s clear this was no devilishly effective plot. Facebook says 56% of the ads ran after the election, reducing the tally that could have influenced the result to about $44,000. It also turns out the ads were not confined to swing states but also shown in places like New York, California and Texas. Supposing half the ads went to swing states brings the total down to $22,000.

So from mere chump change the figure really boils down to laughably minuscule.

Facebook also counted ads as early as June 2015. Assuming they were evenly spread and we want only those that ran the year of the election, that knocks it down to $13,000. Most of the ads did not solicit support for a candidate and carried messages on issues like racism, immigration and guns. The actual electioneering then amounts to about $6,500.

And from laughably minuscule, the total amount goes to virtually non-existent.

I have 40 years of experience in politics, and this Russian ad buy, mostly after the election anyway, simply does not add up to a carefully targeted campaign to move voters. It takes tens of millions of dollars to deliver meaningful messages to the contested portion of the electorate. Converting someone who voted for the other party last time is an enormously difficult task. Swing voters in states like Ohio or Florida are typically barraged with 50% or more of a campaign’s budget. Try watching TV in those states the week before an election and you will see how jammed the airwaves are.

It will be interesting if special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of Democrat donor investigators attempt to make the case for supposed Russian collusion with the Trump campaign based on those Facebook ads that had no real election effect. If they do, it will be a very significant indicator of their desperation to find a crime which so far has not made an appearance.


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2016 Presidential Wall Street Journal Mark Penn