Nearly $1 million was spent on political Facebook ads aimed at influencing Mainers over the past month as candidates and outside groups seek to sway targeted demographics, with some happening on pages designed to look somewhat nonpartisan or even to sell things.
The bulk of those ads, which amounted to $33,000 per day in spending in July, revolve around the state’s heavily watched U.S. Senate race, the November vote on the Central Maine Power corridor that is already the most expensive referendum in state history and the presidential election where the 2nd Congressional District looks to be in the balance.
The biggest spender in Maine was the campaign of House Speaker Sara Gideon, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, which spent more than $135,000 on the site. Next were President Donald Trump, who spent more than $95,000 targeting Maine, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican whose spending exceeded $73,000.
Digital advertising on sites including Facebook allows campaigns and outside groups to reach a large swath of voters for relatively little money compared to traditional advertising. Posts boosted with less than $100 in spending often receive tens of thousands of impressions in Maine, according to the site’s data.
Facebook requires political ad spending to use disclaimers, somewhat similar to those used in television advertising. Some are for official pages, like the pages belonging to Trump, Collins and Gideon. But disclaimers don’t have to match the names of pages, and several groups target Maine have spread out their spending over various pages. Some have ambiguous names.
One Facebook page called “Side by Side For Good” is funded by Hydro-Quebec, a Canadian company that has been at the center of controversy over its spending to support the CMP corridor, which faces a referendum in November. The company has spent more than $100,000 on Facebook ads via that page, according to the site’s data.
Another page titled “A Stronger Maine” is paid for by Priorities USA and Majority Forward, two Democratic dark-money groups. The page, which has spent more than $70,000 since May, includes ads critical of Collins over issues including Social Security and Medicare.
A page titled “Sara Gideon Facts” is paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has poured more than $93,000 into the page since May. Its ads, similar to those the group has been running on TV, target Gideon over the Paycheck Protection Program and her leadership in the Maine Legislature. The NRSC only spent $2,700 in ads targeting Maine via its official Facebook page.
The Trump campaign has spread out its advertising money across the president’s official Facebook page, pages for Vice President Mike Pence and some of Trump’s key advisers — including former campaign manager Brad Parscale and senior adviser Katrina Pierson — as well as several pages with names like “Black Voices for Trump,” “Veterans for Trump” and “Evangelicals for Trump.”
There are also pages using words reminiscent of the president but not affiliated with his campaign. For instance, a page titled “Keeping America Great Again” — a play on the president’s 2016 campaign slogan — has spent a few thousand dollars on advertising targeting Maine. But the page is not connected to the Trump campaign — rather, it links to a New Jersey retailer that sells pro-Trump gear.