A new tool lets you track candidate spending on Facebook—and Trump is crushing Democrats

Facebook (Fair Use) Remix by Jason Reed

The numbers are staggering.

After foreign actors used Facebook to reach people during the 2016 election and sow discord, the platform came under pressure to make some significant changes. When he testified before Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.”

One of the changes that they implemented was building a tool that outlined the ads that politicians run on Facebook. They announced that tool in June 2018, saying:The vast majority of ads on Facebook are run by legitimate organizations … But we’ve seen that bad actors can misuse our products, too.”

The new gadget left a lot to be desired and Facebook quietly coded out other, more comprehensive tools and plugins that flagged political ads on the platform—like one built by ProPublica that showed why you were served certain ads.

But, recently, Facebook added another feature to their ad library, which is a bit helpful if you’re hoping to get a brief snapshot of the 2020 campaigns. The tech giant will now show you how much a candidate’s official page has spent on advertising (since May of 2018), how much they’ve spent in a recent seven-day period (right now, this tracks from April 7 to April 13), when the page was created, if the name of the page has changed ,and where the primary country is for people managing the page.

So, for example, here’s the info that they give for Donald Trump’s page.

facebook political ad spending donald trump beto orourke kamala harris

You can see that Trump created his page on April 7, 2009, and that he’s never changed the name of it. You can also see that the president has spent a whopping $11.3 million on Facebook ads since May of 2018 and $207,167 in the seven-day period they give you.

Trump’s spending figures blow out any of the 2020 Democrats; only a few of them have pumped more than a million dollars into Facebook.

The highest spending Democrat is Beto O’Rourke, who has spent $8,570,194, but only $15,629 in the recent week. 

Since the figure dates to May of 2018, this also includes spending that Beto did on this page during his failed race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). O’Rourke used $8,153,411 on ads under the disclaimer “Beto for Texas” and only $386,205 under the disclaimer “Beto for America.”

facebook political ad spending donald trump beto orourke kamala harris

facebook political ad spending donald trump beto orourke kamala harris

The second-highest spending Democrat in the field is Sen/ Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who spent $1,885,139 on Facebook ads in the past year, but only $12,778 in the past seven-days. Harris is also one of the others who changed the name of her page—she spends under “Kamala Harris for Senate” and Kamala Harris for the People.”

facebook political ad spending donald trump beto orourke kamala harris

After Harris, Elizabeth Warren is next in overall spending. Warren has forked over $1,557,038 in total ads but she’s outspent Harris in recent days, totaling $67,275 in the seven-day period.

facebook political ad spending donald trump beto orourke kamala harris

Interestingly, Warren’s Senate page hasn’t spent any money and doesn’t have any ads listed, neither does Harris’ page.

After Warren, here are how the figures line up in the field as ranked by total spending:

4.) Kirsten Gillibrand: $1,283,022 total, $9,507 in the seven-day period

5.) Cory Booker:  $890,194 total, $8,890 in the seven-day period

6.) Bernie Sanders: $885,554 total, $45,653 in the seven-day period

7.) Amy Klobuchar: $796,896 total, $48,379 in the seven-day period

8.) Andrew Yang: $499,213 total, $154,840 in the seven-day period

9.) Julian Castro: $264,569 total, $137,162 in the seven-day period

10.) John Delaney:  $133,049 total, $3,145 in the seven-day period

11.) Tulsi Gabbard: $108,770 total, $0 in the seven-day period

12.) John Hickenlooper: $55,085 total, $195 in the seven-day period

13.) Pete Buttigieg: $36,734 total, $9,796 in the seven-day period

While Julian Castro and Andrew Yang’s spending is close to Trump’s over the past week, the top seven Dems in overall spending poured a little over $208,000 in the past week to Facebook, just $1,000 more than Trump.

While this data is helpful, it still stops short of giving us really good information like where ads were targeted, who they were aimed at, and how people interacted with them.  

The other question that it raises, is who has to provide information. For example, the Washington Post is obviously running ads on Facebook but their numbers are left blank, maybe because the language says “Total spent by Page on ads related to politics or issues of importance.”

Meanwhile, we can see that The Young Turks have spent $231,507 on ads that fall under that category since May of 2018. We can’t see the Daily Caller’s spending but we can see that Dan Bongino spent $22,285.

While this is still stopping way short of where Facebook should be in terms of transparency if they want to gain any trust back, the new tool is helpful for looking at the 2020 Democratic field. 

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Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.