Paul-Affiliated Super PAC Tests Limits of Mostly Digital Campaign

Close to $4M Spent on Web, but Will Need TV for Wider Audience

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

Endorse Liberty, a Super PAC backing Texas Rep. Ron Paul, has made it its mission to focus almost solely on Internet advertising. And while it's had success so far, it's now brushing up the limits of an all-digital effort.

President Barack Obama, of course, was in the forefront of digital political advertising when he ran for the White House in 2008. And while many followed suit, most politicians, including President Obama, used the Internet in 2008 and 2010 primarily to raise money, not votes.

That's changing this time around as candidates and PACs look to drum up as many votes as they do dollars on the web. Still, with the exception of Endorse Liberty, none of the campaigns or Super PACs involved in the presidential race have concentrated the overwhelming majority of their efforts on the Web.

A Google employee familiar with the matter said Endorse Liberty is the frontrunner in web-based advertising. FEC documents back this up.

The group has spent nearly $4 million since it was founded last month, most of it on Google pop up ads, YouTube videos and advertisements on Facebook. Most of the pop up ads have positive messages about Mr. Paul and his position on issues.

It's not all positive, however. The group's "Fake Politicians Channel" on YouTube features impostors of Mr. Paul's political rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Endorse Liberty's Internet campaign was used ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire and is now running in South Carolina and Florida.

The Super PAC was founded by young internet entrepreneurs who like Mr. Paul's brand of Republicanism.

Jeffrey Harmon, 29, who has a background in social media marketing, is a co-founder of the political action committee. So is Steve Oskoui, the 30-something CEO of Smiley Media, an Internet advertising network.

Mr. Harmon doesn't own a TV set. He believes the internet is the future of political advertising because it allows you to target your message.

"It's significantly more effective," he said." And we know what we're doing."

Mr. Harmon credits Endorse Liberty's Internet campaign in Iowa for Mr. Paul's strong support among young voters in that state's caucuses.

But he admits there's one weakness -- a big one -- in Endorse Liberty's digital campaign.

"We have a hard time reaching 50-plus voters because they're not on the Internet," Mr. Harmon said.

Endorse Liberty is running its first TV ads in Florida, home to many older Republican voters.

Unlike candidate campaign committees, there are no limits on what a Super PAC can raise or spend. Endorse Liberty declined to reveal its donors. Mr. Harmon said they were "entrepreneurs and artists."

"We're not your typical businessman," he said. .

One of the few limits imposed on the groups is that they cannot work in conjunction with the candidates they seek to support. Mr. Harmon said he has never met Mr. Paul or anybody on the Texas congressman's campaign staff.

Endorse Liberty recently changed its disclosure frequency with the Federal Election Commission so its donors don't have to be revealed until midnight on Jan. 31—after polls in Florida are closed.

While TV advertising will take a lion's share of the advertising dollars in this campaign cycle, the Google salesman said "digital is going to have more and more impact."

There are estimates that some presidential campaigns will spend 10% or more of their advertising budget on digital ad buys and in expectation of this growing trend, Google has bolstered its online sales force.

Geographical targeting on the web isn't the only method being used by politicians these days. Indeed, they're increasingly turning to behavioral targeting.

Politically active web users searching for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, for example, would eventually be served Endorse Liberty ads featuring positive messages about Congressman Paul.

Facebook, too, allows campaigns to target a specific demographic and certain interests because its pages contain a slew of personal information. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race this week, marketed his faith-based campaign to Iowans who identified themselves as Christians on Facebook.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said identified a Google employee as a "salesman."

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