Trump PAC Says 1-800 Ad Approach Is Building Supporter Data

Great America PAC Has Spent Millions to Back Donald Trump

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A scene from an ad by Great America PAC, which supports Donald Trump's campaign for president.
A scene from an ad by Great America PAC, which supports Donald Trump's campaign for president. Credit: Great America PAC
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Most political campaigns and groups aim to reach likely voters, people who have voted in recent elections. But pro-Donald Trump group Great America PAC wants to uncover a different breed, people who rarely or never vote but support the GOP presidential nominee. To do that, the organization is taking a novel approach to political TV advertising: It's running direct-response 1-800 ads to garner donations and data.

The group is running a 1-800 number at the bottom of ads including one featuring former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The goal is to entice people who rarely engage in the political process to call and "pledge" their support for Mr. Trump, then donate a few bucks.

This year Great America PAC has collected $5.4 million and spent around $6.6 million, much of it on TV spots and elements of voter outreach including list rentals, data services and emails and phone calls, according to Ad Age analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.

"We didn't just want to do the traditional super PAC model" of running negative ads, said Brent Lowder, executive director of Great America PAC. "We're looking to get in there and sort of mine the different supporters," he said. Great America PAC, in fact, is not a super PAC; rather, it is a hybrid type of PAC that is legally able to transfer money and donor data directly to the Trump camp. "We're trying to identify what that self-identified Trump supporter looks like."

"Call (800) 515-8816 Now & Press 1 to take the Trump Unity Pledge," urged some versions of Great America PAC ads featuring Mr. Giuliani. "America's leadership can and must be better, and with Donald Trump as president it will be," he says in the spot. The group has varied the wording of its direct response messaging based on the current news cycle. A call prompts a recorded voice asking people to press 1 to pledge their support for Mr. Trump. Mr. Giuliani then takes over, explaining that Great America PAC was established to help generate grassroots support for a candidate who hasn't spent his life building a supporter base.

The organization has aired its ads around 5,000 times in recent months and generated "millions" of responses, according to Dan Backer, general counsel and treasurer of Great America PAC and a principal attorney at campaign finance and political law firm DB Capitol Strategies.

"As a result, Great America PAC has built a tremendous data file," said Mr. Backer. He declined to disclose how many supporters the organization has shepherded into its fold.

"They're low-propensity voters," he continued. "These are people that basically don't feel represented by the political system."

After primaries in some states, Great America PAC analyzed publicly available voter data and compared it with the information it gathered on voters in those states to get a sense of whether they may have responded to Great America PAC messaging by voting, and how regularly they'd voted in the past.

The group wouldn't go into detail about its data collection, matching or analysis work, though Mr. Lowder said Great America PAC is using internal staff and external vendors to handle data work. According to FEC reports, it doesn't appear that Great America PAC is working with any companies strictly dedicated to voter data crunching other than polling firm Revily, though it has worked with sibling consultancies Connell Donatelli and Campaign Solutions as well as Political List Brokers and Infocision Management, all of which could be helping the group segment and target specific voters.

A digital ad soliciting support for Donald Trump.
A digital ad soliciting support for Donald Trump. Credit: Great America PAC

The PAC's digital ads are squarely aimed at fundraising and data collection, too. "Do you support Trump? If yes, click here," say many ads that have been spotted online by digital ad tracker Moat Pro over the past few months. The ads link to a "petition" page asking people to provide their name, email address and zip code if they believe Mr. Trump should be the next U.S. president. One more click brings them to a donation page.

The group, because it is registered as a hybrid PAC, is not subject to FEC regulations that prohibit super PACs from giving funds directly to the candidates they support. Great America PAC has collected thousands of $5 online donations that are earmarked for the Trump campaign. Along with those "conduit contributions" come donor contact information. According to Mr. Backer, that data is used to create "universes of look-alikes," allowing Great America PAC to expand its voter targets to include people with similar demographics to its supporters.

Mr. Backer served as plaintiffs' counsel in Carey v FEC, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia case that created the so-called hybrid PAC.