An exclusive report by OpenSecrets revealed Thursday that conservative hedge fund executive and multimillionaire Robert Mercer was the largest of a few financial backers helping social welfare organization Secure America Now push anti-Muslim ads toward swing voters in key states during the 2016 presidential election.
Released at the tail end of election season, the mock travel ads focused on stoking fears of a Muslim caliphate spreading across the globe, with one video envisioning an "Islamic States of America" where the 9/11 Memorial celebrates an Islamic victory.
When OpenSecrets requested a 2016 tax return from SAN, the group handed over an unredacted copy revealing some of the big money funding its operations.
The filing shows the largest individual contribution, $2 million, came from Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund investor who spent millions in 2016 helping Donald Trump capture the White House.
Others involved in supporting SAN's mission were Ronald S. Lauder, the heir to the Estee Lauder fortune, who offered $1.1 million, and former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson; Foster Friess, the investor and longtime Republican donor; and Olympus Ventures LLC, which is tied to a foundation created by Dick Schulze, the founder of Best Buy -- the last three together contributing a total of $60,000.
And then there was the dark money:
But the investments by Mercer and his ilk would have had lesser impact without the assistance of Facebook and Google, both of which helped SAN target specific voter blocks with their fearmongering videos.
[A]s Bloomberg reported last October, internal reports from the ad agency that ran SAN’s digital campaign, and individuals who were involved with the effort, showed that SAN worked with Google and Facebook to target the ads at swing-state voters.
“Facebook advertising salespeople, creative advisers and technical experts competed with sales staff from Alphabet Inc.’s Google for millions in ad dollars from Secure America Now,” the Bloomberg report writes.
The ads “were viewed millions of times on Facebook and Google,” Bloomberg wrote, citing internal documents. And Facebook went so far as to use Secure America Now as a test case for new technology, sending out 12 different versions of the video to see which was the most popular.