Brett Kavanaugh Has Launched a Political Merch Bonanza
From ‘I like beer’ T-shirts to commemorative coin sets of Trump and his nominee, the market for pro- and anti-Kavanaugh swag—and longer-term things of value—is booming.
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The intense partisan divide over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has juiced digital fundraising and list-building efforts by political groups and candidates of both parties. But it’s also provided money-making opportunities for less-political companies, and firms cashing in on both sides of the political divide, to market merchandise to the politically enthused.
From T-shirts to coffee mugs to collectors’ coins, the market for both pro and anti-Kavanaugh swag is booming. And some of the vendors getting in on the action appear to be putting on an air of political sincerity in order to lure partisan consumers.
An obscure right-wing website called “I Love My Freedom” has bought up scores of Facebook ads since last month to market its “limited edition collector coin set,” a souvenir trumpeting President Donald Trump and his Supreme Court nominee. It even set up a new stand-alone website, trumpcollectorcoins.com, to market the product.
On its face, I Love My Freedom appears to be a low-rent pro-Trump news source, similar to a host of other clickbaity MAGA sites that also market pro-Trump gear. In fact, the site can be traced to a digital advertising agency that boasts of its ability to make you a quick buck online.
ILMF is backed by the company Pigeon Media, which has bought a host of ads driving traffic to the site through ILMF’s Facebook page and another page, Donald Trump Is My President, that boasts more than 1.8 million “likes.” Incorporation records describe Pigeon Media as a “marketing consultant” business. It’s run by a California individual named Clayton Kierns, the head of content creation at another company, Making Web Profits, that promises to “grow your Facebook Page from 200,000 to 600,000 and finally monetize it” and “DOUBLE your current website’s revenue.”
It’s not the only company making web profits through the sale of Kavanaugh merch. Your Trump Shop, a site set up by Republican digital vendor Seth Weathers, is marketing T-shirts playing off of Kavanaugh’s now-famous “I like beer” statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Visitors can find those alongside shirts hyping “Cocaine Mitch” McConnell—a reference to the widely-adopted nickname for the Senate majority leader.
A site called The Donald Stuff has gotten in on the action with Kavanaugh shirts and coffee mugs. Registration information says it was formed in 2015 by an Ohio man named Tony Baltes. Baltes ran a prominent political merchandising vendor called Tigereye Promotions, which has done more than $20 million in business for Democratic Party campaigns and committees since 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Reached by phone Thursday, Baltes said he had sold the business and gotten out of the political merchandising game. But he acknowledged that he may have registered the website. “We would buy domain names, and we probably did buy The Donald Stuff just on speculation,” he said. “I’m sure there are some other domain names out there that are similar… You never knew who was going to jump out of the pack.”
In his years in the business, Baltes said it was lightning-rod events like the Kavanaugh confirmation that would really juice merchandising sales. “Everybody’s a sloganeer in this business,” he said. “I always said we made billboards for people to wear.”
Baltes is now a farmer, and he laments he was “in this business 20 years too early.” The internet, he said, has made political merchandise sales easier and more profitable than it ever was during his tenure at Tigereye. “When I was doing this, the internet was a factor. Now it’s THE factor.”
It’s not just a factor in for-profit ad sales, of course. Politicians themselves are using the same sorts of tactics to tremendous effect in efforts to fundraise and build out their voter-contact lists. During the Kavanaugh confirmation process, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members were some of the most prolific digital advertisers, in particular Kamala Harris of California.
Widely expected to mount a 2020 presidential run, Harris literally bought too many Facebook ads to count. Efforts to tally up the specific number through the platform’s ad-disclosure database requires so many queries of that database that Facebook locks out users before they can view a fraction of Harris’ ads.
Facebook’s disclosure tool estimates that Harris bought about 1.2 million such ads. But experts say that number is grossly inflated because it includes multiple iterations of the same ads targeted to different audiences. Still, the sheer number of spots run seems to be large and a reflection of just how beneficial the digital environment current is for Democratic lawmakers right now.
Harris, one top strategist said, likely has developed one of the largest email lists in Democratic politics less than two years into office. Her ads on Kavanaugh underscore her strategy. The spots primarily asked supporters to sign a petition opposing Kavanaugh, which then added their names to the senator’s list of email addresses, which her campaign—for Senate or president—can hit up for donations in the future.
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