Liberal groups have dropped more than $20 million into advertisements attacking President Donald Trump and Republicans on coronavirus, a sign that the pandemic will play a central role in November's presidential election.
Democrats have used the outbreak in recent weeks to campaign in battleground states that could determine the presidential election, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Liberal advocacy groups and super PACs are airing ads slamming the president as slow in responding to the pandemic.
The multimillion-dollar efforts are fueled by groups bankrolled by some of the party's top donors, including billionaires Donald Sussman and George Soros. Protect Our Care, a dark money group established to protect the Affordable Care Act, is the latest to attack Trump's response to the outbreak. The group put five figures into television and digital ad buys late last week in battleground states. The ads will continue to run throughout this week.
Protect Our Care is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund at Arabella Advisors, a dark money network that funneled more than a half-billion in secret cash from wealthy donors to liberal initiatives in 2018. Dozens of advocacy groups fall under the Sixteen Thirty Fund's umbrella, which provides its legal and tax-exempt status to groups that are not recognized as nonprofits by the IRS. Protect Our Care also set up a "Coronavirus War Room" Twitter account to counter Trump's response. The group did not respond to requests for comment.
While Protect Our Care attacks Trump over the pandemic, Tax March, another Sixteen Thirty Fund project, has targeted GOP lawmakers. The group poured $1.2 million into media buys against Republican senators David Perdue (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Ron Johnson (Wis.) over their support for the 2017 tax bill that contained relief for some corporations that may benefit from the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus.
Liberal super PACs have also spent millions attacking Trump. PACRONYM, a super PAC tied to the dark money nonprofit ACRONYM, has spent at least $5 million on coronavirus ads against the president. Tara McGowan, the group's founder, said it's up to Democratic groups to push anti-Trump messaging during the pandemic while presidential candidates remain positive. PACRONYM received $1 million from Sussman and $250,000 from Soros's Democracy PAC late last year.
Establishment players such as Priorities USA, the largest outside Democratic super PAC, have been some of the biggest spenders to date. Priorities has already poured more than $7.5 million hitting Trump over the coronavirus in pivotal battleground states. Fueled by $8 million from Sussman and $5 million from Soros this cycle, the group began running ads in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in March.
"Trump's response to the crisis has been nothing short of a failure," the group said in a press release announcing its initial coronavirus ads. "He continues to lie constantly and fail to act in the best interest of the country. It is imperative that voters know the truth about Trump's failures so they can continue to hold their government accountable in this time of crisis."
Priorities plans to spend at least $150 million leading up to the November elections.
American Bridge PAC, led by liberal operative David Brock, has spent $6.3 million on coronavirus media buys. The PAC has received $2 million in funding from Soros this year. Individuals with ties to the Democracy Alliance, a millionaire and billionaire donor club cofounded by Soros that helps set the progressive agenda, have also provided large donations to the group. The alliance mapped out a $275 million spending plan for the 2020 elections.
American Bridge recently announced that it is joining forces with Unite the Country PAC, the super PAC backing Joe Biden's candidacy. The groups hope to raise a combined $175 million as they collaborate on research, polling, and ad buys against Trump.
Unite the Country has already spent seven figures on coronavirus-related attack ads against Trump. The pro-Biden PAC's biggest donor is Silicon Valley billionaire and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, who has stepped up as a major Democratic funder in recent years. Unite the Country's founders also separately established Future Majority, a D.C.-based dark money "strategy center" that plans to spend at least $60 million in the Midwest.
As outside liberal groups pour tens of millions of dollars into attack ads against Trump, outside Republican groups have been relatively absent from the airwaves.
America First, the super PAC supporting Trump's reelection, recently announced a $10 million ad buy in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin after allegedly facing frustration from White House personnel and Trump's campaign aides over the group's inactivity.