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When the pro-Trump group Great America PAC began buying Facebook ads attacking Maxine Waters last week, it was the first time that the organization had spent money directly opposing a candidate for federal office. And it underscored the degree to which Waters’ recent call for supporters to directly confront Trump administration officials in public has goosed Republican fundraising and grassroots organizing efforts.
It also sheds a light on how those efforts are being employed, often in unseen ways, in the service of Republican political efforts leading up to the midterm elections.
Great America PAC, which raised nearly $5 million last year, is a project of leading conservative attorney Dan Backer, who also represents a number of quasi-news websites that do little but aggregate pro-Trump news while building email lists that can then be sold to Republican campaigns and fundraising vendors. It’s a lucrative business for those who own the email lists, and Maxine Waters is just the latest—and, at the moment, most potent—draw for those looking to harvest the names and contact information of small-dollar conservative donors.
In addition to its Facebook ads, Great America PAC blasted out an email asking supporters to sign a petition demanding Waters’ resignation. The email went out on a list run by the site Winning America Now, a bare-bones pro-Trump site designed to look like a news outlet. It’s similar in appearance to GOP Presidential, another such “news” website with which Backer is affiliated. There’s little public information about Winning America—it’s run by a Texas LLC whose only listed officer is a registered agent, Houston attorney Jerad Najvar—but a little digging reveals the site is also affiliated with Backer. In addition to its flagship site, Winning America appears to have set up a placeholder Wordpress blog with a domain name that’s simply its IP address. That IP is associated with ten other domains, a number of them Trump-themed. But one is the personal blog of an employee of Political List Brokers, a Republican email marketing firm that Backer incorporated in Virginia.
Winning America and GOP Presidential have both recently aggregated conservative media stories targeting Waters to get readers fired up and subscribed to the sites’ email lists. Republican campaigns and party organs can then rent those email lists and use them to reach potential voters and donors. Both sites’ lists have recently been used by the NRSC, NRCC, the campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Devin Nunes, and Rep. Steve Scalise, the Heritage Foundation, and the Thomas More Society. And a number of those clients have also invoked Waters in their fundraising appeals.
Other email vendors have also gotten in on the action. The website DC Statesman has bought 16 Facebook ads since June 27 attacking Waters and calling on her to resign for her comments. DC Statesman and a sister site, RealTimeTrump, have also used news content on their websites to go after Waters. Both sites are affiliated with Mustard Seed Interactive, a Republican email firm affiliated with the Prosper Group. At least fifty Republican campaigns and political groups have paid the two companies for digital and fundraising services this cycle.
It’s a tried and true business model for those looking to earn a buck through political marketing. It just so happens that Waters has provided a potent target for the sorts of fundraising and list-building requests that are these groups’ bread and butter.
John Philip Sousa IV, great-grandson of the legendary composer and the head of conservative PAC Stars and Stripes Forever, recently summed up the attitude among GOP fundraisers. “I love Maxine Waters,” declared Sousa, whose small-dollar-funded outfit has run more anti-Waters ads than any other independent political group this cycle. “Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t vote for Maxine Waters if she were the last living politician on the face of the earth...That doesn’t diminish my gratitude every time she opens her mouth. More than welcoming her tirades, I just love them.”
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