A campaign spending group affiliated with Justice Democrats, an influential left-wing outfit, plans to spend more than half a million dollars on digital advertisements educating the public about elements of former Vice President Joe Biden’s and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s records that progressives consider disqualifying.
The ads will target Democrats in Iowa and South Carolina, appearing on social media and other internet platforms until voters head to the polls in each state.
“Americans need to know about Biden’s and Buttigieg’s records and their relationships with corporate executives and donors,” Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats and president of Organize for Justice’s board, said in a statement.
The group, Organize for Justice, will invest the money ― over half of which it has already raised ― in, among other things, Facebook ads that promote news articles highlighting negative aspects of the moderate candidates’ records and campaign decisions. To optimize its message against the two presidential hopefuls, the group teamed up with polling and public opinion firms. The firms generated research demonstrating that similar ads helped raise awareness of Andrew Gillum’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Florida governor in 2018.
A sample ad about Biden links to a Paste article from May about the former vice president’s past support for cutting Social Security. “Joe Biden agrees with Republicans that Social Security is too generous. Do you?” the ad’s caption says above a photo of pills linking to the article.
A sample ad about Buttigieg links to a Politico article from October about how the former mayor expressed support for a “Medicare for All,” single-payer health care system in a 2018 tweet.
“Mayor Pete Buttigieg used to support Medicare for All. But he flip-flopped soon after the money started flowing,” the ad’s caption says above a photo of a hospital room linking to the article. (Buttigieg’s campaign maintains that the 2018 tweet is consistent with his argument as a White House contender that his public option plan ― “Medicare for all who want it” ― would create “a very natural glide path to a single-payer environment.”)
The Biden-focused ads are also due to address his support for the Iraq War and the 2005 bankruptcy bill, his authorship of the 1994 crime bill and his management of the Anita Hill hearings in 1991. And the Buttigieg-focused ads will also focus on his work at the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Organize for Justice is trying to push back not just against the Biden and Buttigieg campaigns’ efforts to discredit progressive ideas like Medicare for All, but also against the spending of outside groups with similar agendas.
Unite the Country, the super PAC supporting Joe Biden, has spent $2.3 million on televisions ads promoting Biden.
A number of groups have also aired television and digital ads specifically trying to warn people against Medicare for All and more modest expansions of public health insurance. As HuffPost reported in December, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a health care industry front group, and One Nation, a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have spent millions of dollars on ads blasting Medicare for All without any comparable progressive counteroffensive.
The Partnership in particular has invested in social media ads, spending $300,000 in Twitter and Facebook ads targeting voters in swing states, according to a November report in Politico.
“As billionaires, SuperPACs, and corporate-backed front groups spend millions to misinform voters about progressive policies and candidates, the progressive movement has to fight back,” Rojas said.
Organize for Justice is structured as what’s known as a 501(c)4, which means it is able to receive and spend large amounts of money with less frequent disclosure than an ordinary political campaign or political action committee.
Justice Democrats’ establishment of that kind of independent political spending arm is a sign of the group’s growing reach just three years after its inception in January 2017. The group, which was co-founded by alumni of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, is best known for helping to elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and continues to support a slate of progressive primary challengers against incumbent Democrats in Congress. (Justice Democrats has not endorsed anyone in the Democratic presidential primary.)
The ad campaign against Biden and Buttigieg has also attracted support from representatives of the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Iowa Center for Community Improvement Action Fund, which has endorsed Sanders.
“Black America, and by extension all America, needs a presidential candidate who is willing to confront white supremacy,” Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, said in a statement. “Not pine for the good old days when it was at its height. Not negotiate with it. Not appease it and not hide from it.”
The timing of the initiative is particularly auspicious given that it’s coming amid a public spat between the presidential campaigns of progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The tiff has alarmed a host of progressive groups eager to present a united front against Biden, Buttigieg and other more centrist candidates.
“Unfortunately, Biden and Buttigieg have made clear that they are more interested in co-governing and acting out the interests of big money and corporations by being the top two candidates with the most billionaire donors,” Jack Reardon of Iowa CCI Action Fund said in a statement about the ad campaign.