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Watch the over-the-top anti-Muslim ads that Trump backer Robert Mercer secretly bankrolled

By Published on .

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, ads that didn't explicitly mention Trump but endorsed his agenda and rhetoric would occasionally appear out of nowhere, produced by mysterious groups that no one seemed to know anything about. As campaign laws are currently structured, some of these groups, if they were set up the right way, didn't need to disclose their backers. And while any TV advertising they might have booked would have been trackable (because TV ad inventory is finite, and there are companies, such as Kantar and iSpot.tv, that track national and local TV ad placements and estimated spending), comprehensive data about digital-media spending by any given group was and continues to be elusive.

Now, thanks to an OpenSecrets report by Robert Maguire titled "Robert Mercer backed a secretive group that worked with Facebook, Google to target anti-Muslim ads at swing voters," we finally know the story behind some of the most inflammatory political ads released in 2016. OpenSecrets is a project of the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a D.C. non-profit, nonpartisan research group. Robert Mercer is, of course, the hedge fund billionaire most famous for funding alt-right website Breitbart News, backing Trump's presidential campaign and bringing Breitbart News Chairman Steve Bannon into the inner circle of Trump's campaign.

"Welcome to the Islamic States of America," at the top of this post, was released just days before the 2016 presidential election. Others in a series of faux travel ads, such as "Book Your Trip to the Islamic State of France," bottom, were also released in the run-up to the election. As Maguire writes,

Most Americans have never heard of the far-right neoconservative nonprofit that ran the ads. It has no employees and no volunteers, and it's run out of the offices of a Washington, D.C. law firm. More importantly, most voters never saw the ads. And that was by design.

The group, a social welfare organization called Secure America Now, worked hand in hand with Facebook and Google to target their message at voters in swing states who were most likely to be receptive to them. And new tax documents obtained by OpenSecrets show that the money fueling the group came mostly from just three donors, including the secretive multimillionaire donor Robert Mercer.

Although, as Maguire notes, Secure America Now is not required to disclose its donors, it is required to report them to the IRS—information that is "usually redacted when provided for public inspection. However, when OpenSecrets called to request a 2016 return, an unredacted return was provided by the group's accounting firm." Whoops!

That document revealed that the biggest backer of Secure America Now was Robert Mercer, to the tune of $2 million.

As for the role that Facebook and Google played in all this, that was already known thanks to earlier reporting by Ben Elgin and Vernon Silver of Bloomberg News that Maguire cites. See "Facebook and Google Helped Anti-Refugee Campaign in Swing States" (subhead: "The big tech companies worked closely with Secure America Now to target an audience the group felt could be swayed by the message") from last October.

Again, as Maguire notes, outside of swing-state voters who were intensively targeted by the Secure America Now digital campaign, relatively few Americans saw these ads—by design. For instance, the video at the top of this post, a non-paid upload to SAN's YouTube channel, has run up 132,514 apparently organic views as of this writing (it was originally posted Nov. 5, 2016), and a good portion of that total is likely due to Bloomberg's and now OpenSecrets' reporting. The video below has 82,077 views on YouTube to date as of this writing (it was originally posted Oct. 18, 2016).

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