The debate over Russian influence gets some much-needed context checking from a surprising source. If indeed evidence emerges that Donald Trump and his campaign somehow colluded in the hacking of the DNC, that would indeed be a massive scandal — but so far, we’ve seen zero evidence of collusion, even after several months of leaks and speculation.
Evidence of Russian attempts to troll the election are more substantive, but even then the scope of it is so small as to make arguments that it impacted the election laughable. The most cited piece of influence is the $100,000 ad buy on Facebook. That’s so lame that even former Hillary Clinton strategist Mark Penn scoffs at the notion that it had anything to do with the election outcome. “You can’t buy the presidency for $100,000,” he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and told Fox News that “you’ve got to be careful of fake news about fake news.”
That’s on the broad strokes, of course. What about how the ads were run, and their content? Penn argues in his column that there’s even less there than meets the eye:
Analyzing the pattern of expenditures, and doing some back-of-the-envelope math, it’s clear this was no devilishly effective plot. Facebook says 56% of the ads ran after the election, reducing the tally that could have influenced the result to about $44,000. It also turns out the ads were not confined to swing states but also shown in places like New York, California and Texas. Supposing half the ads went to swing states brings the total down to $22,000.
Facebook also counted ads as early as June 2015. Assuming they were evenly spread and we want only those that ran the year of the election, that knocks it down to $13,000. Most of the ads did not solicit support for a candidate and carried messages on issues like racism, immigration and guns. The actual electioneering then amounts to about $6,500.
Now look at the bigger picture. Every day, Americans see hundreds of ads on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards and smartphones. North Americans post to Facebook something like a billion times a day, and during the election many of those messages were about politics. Facebook typically runs about $40 million worth of advertising a day in North America.
Then consider the scale of American presidential elections. Hillary Clinton’s total campaign budget, including associated committees, was $1.4 billion. Mr. Trump and his allies had about $1 billion. Even a full $100,000 of Russian ads would have erased just 0.025% of Hillary’s financial advantage. In the last week of the campaign alone, Mrs. Clinton’s super PAC dumped $6 million in ads into Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The idea that Russian Facebook ads were so effective that just $44,000 worth was enough to offset a $400 million advantage for Hillary Clinton is ludicrous on its face anyway. It’s not just laughable, it’s insulting. Both campaigns ran lengthy advertising campaigns that cost almost a billion dollars on their own, had numerous debates and prime-time coverage, and went on the road to engage voters directly … and it was $44,000 that made all the difference? Come on, man.
And yet, Congress continues to operate in a we gotta save our phony baloney jobs mode. A bill that would force Facebook and other social media websites to have more “transparency” on their advertising just picked up its first Republican sponsor. Three guesses as to who, and the first two don’t count:
Sen. John McCain has become the first Republican to sign on to a draft bill from Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner that would increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook.
The move, announced Wednesday, marks a win for the bill’s Democratic authors, who have been working for weeks to secure GOP support.
The proposed legislation, the Honest Ads Act, is an offshoot of the investigations into Russia’s use of Facebook, Twitter and Google to influence the 2016 election. It would create federal disclosure requirements for political ads sold online — including who paid for them — so they are “covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite,” according to a news release from the offices of Warner and Klobuchar.
Color me shocked that the man who created the useless and unconstitutional McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law would sign onto yet another nonsensical and useless regulation. Given that these ads were bought through front groups, this will do next to nothing in practical terms. With the buy numbers so low, what campaign would bother investigating those groups and exposing anything nefarious anyway? But the hysteria must be fed, so …. give the Senators a harrumph, and you watch your you-know-what.