Fake climate group's ads likely reached millions
United for Clean Power's deceptive ads have ceased—but not before they were shown on Google over 2.5 million times.
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Last week, on August 2, the FWIW newsletter broke the news that a Republican-linked dark money group called United for Clean Power was buying tons of ads on Google, Facebook and Politico, in an attempt to convince progressive lawmakers to vote against the $369 billion climate policy deal slated to pass the House today.
A few days later, on August 8, FWIW and the Popular Information newsletter revealed even more details about the shady group’s origins. Together, they reported that United for Clean Power “has extensive ties to a network of Republican operatives who use non-profit groups to manipulate issues.”
Since then, the story has been picked up by the Washington Post and Protocol, and was mentioned in the Politico PM Playbook newsletter (though ironically, the newsletter didn’t mention that Politico itself was running the ads).
Following all this sunlight, it now appears that United for Clean Power has ceased its deceptive advertising campaign. The group’s ads have been silent on Google and Facebook since August 8, according to a HEATED review of ad spending on the platforms.
Still, United for Clean Power managed to successfully spend more than $200,000 on deceptive ads that were shown over 2.5 million times on Google alone, according to HEATED’s analysis.
$200K+ dark money ads to Google, Facebook and Politico
United for Clean Power spent $75,500 on 143 Google ads from July 30 to August 8, according to Google’s ad transparency insight data. Ads ran in all 50 states, but most were targeted to users in New York ($17,700), Michigan ($12,600), Missouri, ($10,700) and Minnesota ($8,300).
These ads were shown a minimum of 2,523,000 million times, according to a manual review of each Google ad, which includes a range of how many times the ad was shown.
About half of United for Clean Power’s Google ads (46.5 percent) were videos like this one, which says, “We’re running out of time to save our planet, and Republicans don’t care.” The text reads: "Demand environmental justice or kill the reconciliation bill.”
The other half of United for Clean Power’s Google ads were split between images (25.7 percent) and text (27.8 percent). These ads urge viewers to contact Democratic Reps. Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Jamaal Bowman and demand they vote to kill the reconciliation bill.
Facebook and Politico ran similar ads from United for Clean Power before the dark money group ceased its campaign. According to Popular Information and FWIW, United for Clean Power spent at least $32,700 on Facebook ads and at least $170,000 on Politico ads.
On Facebook, United for Clean Power was able to garner anywhere from 741,000 to 902,957 impressions, according to a manual review of each Facebook ad.
It’s unknown how many people the group was able to reach through its Politico sponsorships. However, combined with the 2.5 million impressions from Google, the near-1 million impressions from Facebook, and the undisclosed number of people targeted by its separate text messaging campaign, it seems safe to say that the deceptive ads reached millions.
Should media platforms allow dark money ads?
It’s unclear why United for Clean Power stopped its ad campaign targeting House progressives so far in advance of the House vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. Perhaps the reporting from FWIW and Politico cowed them into silence. Perhaps Google and Facebook flagged the ads as deceptive and removed them. (We reached out to Google to see if they were removed because of ad policy violations, but didn’t hear back).
Or perhaps United for Clean Power simply realized their campaign was ineffective. After all, the Inflation Reduction Act is slated to pass the House today—with a slew of “yes” votes by its most progressive members.
Whatever the reason, the United for Clean Power story shows how advertising platforms aid in the spread of deceptive messaging from dark money groups attempting to influence policy outcomes. It raises the question: should media platforms accept political advertising from groups whose funders and agenda are unclear?
Anthony Nadler, an associate professor of media and communication studies at Ursinus College, argues they should not. In an op-ed for Wired, he argued that Facebook and Google should ban the practice. The impact, he wrote, could be huge:
Together, Facebook and Google are estimated to control more than 70 percent of the US market share in digital advertising. These two companies alone could thwart the midterm expectations of dark money groups by immediately announcing such a ban. If Facebook and Google want the favor of all those who desire a democracy less susceptible to information bullying by shadowy groups, the choice is clear: Don’t be evil.
Support HEATED’s independent climate accountability reporting by becoming a subscriber today!
Big tech’s ad rules leave plenty of room for dark money to hide. Protocol, April 2020.
Inside the ever-growing power of dark money in U.S. politics. Marketplace, March 2022.
Is a Michigan energy firm using dark money to influence California’s climate plans? L.A. Times, June 2022.
Facebook and Google Must Ban Ads From Dark Money Groups. Wired, March 2018.
HOW FAR WILL FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES GO TO KILL RENEWABLES? Incredibly far, according to this must-read investigation from Floodlight News and the Orlando Sentinel. It reveals that power companies across the U.S. have been using a consulting firm called Matrix LLC to use all sorts of shady, ridiculous tactics to fight politicians and policies that encourage renewable power—including bribing a politician with the same name as their opponent to run for office, solely to confuse voters. It’s a wild ride. Highly recommend.
CATCH OF THE DAY: Fish is taking a break from newsletter duty today, but he has some friends he’d like to introduce you to.
First up is Maxwell, a former stray from the Midwest who currently lives with reader Micah in Switzerland. (Fish has international friends! He’s so worldly!)
Per Micah: “Although his caretakers have chosen to live car-free, Maxwell enjoys watching downtown traffic. (Don't worry, he's not alone when he's outside.) Occasionally, Maxwell's interests also turn toward more sustainable transit options, and he creates a stir when he rides the bus on a leash and harness.”
Next up is Phoebe and Sadie, two pups who have passed over the Rainbow Bridge—but still have an important message for us.
They are relaying the message through their companion, reader Ian, who writes: “Phoebe and Sadie were two rescue bassets who believe that since they were rescued, it was our obligation to rescue the planet as well.”
Want to see your furry (or non-furry!) friend in HEATED? Send a picture and some words to firstname.lastname@example.org.