Former U.S. President and Republican candidate Donald Trump makes a keynote speech at a Republican fundraising dinner in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S. August 5, 2023.
Sam Wolfe | Reuters
Ever since Meta lifted its two-year ban on former President Donald Trump earlier this year, its Facebook and Instagram platforms have emerged as a key element of Trump’s presidential campaign fundraising plan, according to data from Meta’s archives and interviews with campaign strategists and Trump advisors.
Meta’s platforms offer Trump a vital resource that he can’t get from his own social media site, Truth Social, or via his countless mass emails: Access to millions of potential donors who may not be part of his traditional political base of supporters.
A big audience
Meta boasts 202 million daily active users on Facebook in the U.S. and Canada, according to its latest quarterly report. That’s a lot of eyeballs for a catchy political ad.
Starting in April, when it was announced Trump was first indicted in New York City, the number of overall impressions that Trump’s campaign ads rack up via his Facebook and Instagram accounts has skyrocketed, according to company data.
Trump’s Aug. 24 mugshot in Georgia, the first ever for a former president, has been a top draw in his recent posts.
The photo is used in at least 18 different versions of the same ad, spots that together racked up over 1 million impressions in the past week, according to the archive’s data.
The ads allow viewers to click a link to a fundraising page for the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee that helps raise money for the Trump campaign and a leadership political action committee called Save America that’s spending millions of dollars on the former president’s legal fees.
The Trump camp has said that it’s raised over $9 million since he was booked in Georgia.
The Trump campaign did not say how much of the fundraising was through Facebook, but a Trump digital fundraiser told CNBC that the boost is likely due at least in part to the former president’s renewed efforts to raise money on the Meta-owned platforms. This person declined to be named in order to speak freely about internal campaign strategy.
Social media impressions are considered one of the most important metrics, especially for digital ad buyers, since it counts as “the number of times any content from your page or about your page entered a person’s screen,” according to Facebook.
Andrew Arenge, the director of operations for the University of Pennsylvania’s program on opinion research and election studies, told CNBC that higher impressions can be a key factor in helping bring in waves of campaign cash. Arenge’s team studies digital ad spending for both Democrats and Republicans.
“The value of running fundraising ads on digital versus say television, is that there is less friction between when an individual sees the fundraising appeal and when they can actually donate the money,” Arenge said in a message to CNBC over X, formerly known as Twitter. “So getting an ad in front of more eyeballs should provide more opportunity for the campaign to see more people click on the ad thus an opportunity to raise more money.”
Return on investment
Trump’s Facebook ad impressions have come with very little cost to his political operation, making it a cheap way for the former president to raise money for both his campaign and legal defense efforts.
Trump’s team only spent just over $77,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads the week he was charged in Georgia, according to data from digital ad tracker FWIW. The Meta ad archive shows that since early June, the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee spent more than $500,000 on digital Meta ads.
There is no public data showing how much the Meta ads have directly raised for the Trump campaign.
Political strategists say that Trump’s regaining access to Facebook is key to him raising money through online donations and acts as a lifeline to his 2024 campaign, regardless of his legal struggles.
“Online donations are the lifeblood of Trump’s campaign. Without access to those donors, he’d struggle to raise sufficient resources,” Alex Conant, a partner at Firehouse Strategies and former advisor to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently told CNBC when asked about Trump’s resurgence on the platform.
Trump’s campaign outraised all of his Republican primary opponents in the second quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records.
And while many of his rivals struggled to collect donations from 40,000 people in order to qualify for the first Republican debate, Trump has booked online contributions from 10 times that many individuals — at least 400,000 donors — from the launch of his campaign last year through June, according to NBC News.
Brad Parscale, who was Trump’s initial 2020 campaign manager and a key architect of the former president’s digital fundraising platform during their successful 2016 White House run, told CNBC that many of his company’s clients saw major digital fundraising success post the mugshot becoming public.
Parscale founded and is now a partner at digital fundraising firm Campaign Nucleus, which has recently counted the Trump campaign and Make America Great Again Inc., a super PAC backing Trump’s run for president, as clients, according to FEC records.
“Since President Trump posted his mugshot, Campaign Nucleus has witnessed substantially increased activity, and many of our clients have seen an increase of up to 3x their normal fundraising,” Parscale said.
In the months since Trump regained access to his personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, he has steadily ramped up his presence as his legal troubles mount.
Trump and 18 other co-conspirators were indicted in Georgia in August for alleged illegal efforts in overturning the 2020 election in the state. In New York, Trump faces criminal charges of falsifying business records tied to a scheme that directed hush money payments to two women.
Special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump in two federal cases: One over his handling of classified government records after he left office and another case charging him with trying to overturn President Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 election.
Christian Ferry, a veteran Republican strategist who used to work for the late Republican Sen. John McCain and Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that Trump’s Facebook ads represent a “desperate need” to raise money both for his campaign and legal fees.
“Trump is in desperate need of small-dollar donations to feed both his campaign and growing legal fees, so the more platforms the better,” Ferry said. “But impressions do not equal contributions and his polarizing nature ensures his posts get impressions from and detractors alike.”
Different Facebook, same Trump
The content of the ads has changed very little since his last presidential campaign in 2020 and the deadly, pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that initially prompted his ban from Meta’s sites.
Facebook’s 2019 decision allowing political ads that have false information to remain on the platform without any repercussions has given Trump the ability to freely use falsehoods in his posts.
Some of the recent Trump ads falsely claim, for instance, that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, “lets violent murderers and TRUE criminals run wild in her city.” Willis is leading the case against Trump for his alleged illegal efforts to overturn the 2020 election in the state.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that violent crime in Atlanta is down 20% compared with this time last year.
A representative for Trump’s campaign did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for Meta declined to comment on Monday when asked about the Trump advertisements on its platforms.
Trump’s return to Meta platforms will put his messaging in front of a changing landscape of users, as more kids are using Instagram, according to recent polling.
About 62% of teens from the ages of 13 and 17 are turning to use Instagram, according to Pew Research polling conducted in 2022. Facebook’s use by that age group, on the other hand, has dropped to 32% just last year, according to the poll.
Facebook’s age demographic has started to grow in recent years, according to research done by Insider Intelligence. The data firm expects by 2026 only about 28% of Facebook’s users will be between the ages 18 and 34 years old.
Cash-strapped political network
Trump’s return toward utilizing Meta as one of his digital fundraising platforms comes as his overall political network has, at times, struggled to raise enough funds to cover both his run for president and coinciding legal fees.
Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, raised more than $15 million and spent over $20 million on legal fees in the first half of the year, according to FEC records. Save America was down to only $3 million on hand going into the second half of the year.
The Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, which represents the bulk of the Meta ad spending for Trump, raised more than $53 million over that same time period and transferred over $31 million to affiliated committees, including Save America.
The joint fundraising committee went into the second half of the year with just over $5 million on hand.