The secretive dark money group behind an Islamophobic ad campaign run during the 2016 election was unmasked Thursday as being funded by rightwing mega-donors, in a Center for Responsive Politics report on its 2016 tax return.
In three ads — “Islamic State of France,” “Islamic State of Germany” and “Islamic States of America” — Secure America Now spliced violent imagery, including of an execution-style murder and Islamic State fighters, in between doctored images of the three countries re-imagined as theocracies. The group has been prolific on YouTube for years, as well as on several social media channels.
In 2016, the tax return revealed, Secure America Now was funded primarily by Robert Mercer, the hugely influential Trump donor and far-right activist; 45Committee, another dark money group reportedly started by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Todd Ricketts, the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and son of TD Amitrade founder-billionaire Joe Ricketts; and Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder fortune who is also active in Israeli politics.
Mercer, 45Comittee and Lauder gave Secure America Now $2 million, $2 million, and $1.1 million in 2016, respectively. The group counted donations in slightly smaller numbers from yet more well-known donors: Brad Anderson, former Best Buy CEO; Foster Friess; and Olympus Ventures LLC, which the Center for Responsive Politics reported is tied to the founder of Best Buy, Dick Schulze.
Secure America Now is categorized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization and therefore does not have to disclose donor information publicly. However, it does report its donors to the IRS, and the Center for Response Politics obtained a copy of Secure America Now’s 2016 tax return from its accounting firm.
In October of last year, Bloomberg reported that Facebook and Google poured extensive resources into helping Secure America Now target specific audiences in swing states with the Islamophobic ads.
The two companies, according to the report, “worked closely” with Secure America Now as the group spent “millions” on election ads.
“On June 16 of last year,” the report continued, “sales managers from Google’s elections team hunkered down in its New York offices with officials from Secure America Now and Harris Media to talk about how to improve their digital ad campaigns.”
Facebook, according to the report, went so far as to test new targeting technology with the Secure America Now campaign.
Facebook in recent weeks has received heavy criticism for the access to millions of users’ data that another Mercer-funded group had during the 2016 election: Cambridge Analytica. Mercer, along with former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, founded the group. According to the New York Times, Mercer put at least $15 million into the venture.