Source Check

Published — October 17, 2016

Billionaire-backed super PAC targets Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness

Group that once backed Republican Ted Cruz now out to boost Donald Trump


In poll after poll, voters have expressed qualms over Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness.

And a pro-Donald Trump super PAC is highlighting that trust deficit in a smattering of new television spots.

The super PAC, Make America Number 1, is backed by GOP megadonor Robert Mercer, the co-chief executive officer of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter, Rebekah, who currently oversees day-to-day operations. The group reports having roughly $3.2 million in cash on hand, but Robert Mercer’s pockets go deep — and last month, the super PAC reported its first seven-figure contribution from another donor.

The new ads mark the first time Make America Number 1 has ventured into TV ads since it began supporting Trump in June, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG, which monitors ads on broadcast television and national — but not local — cable.

The ads

An actress stands against a white backdrop, announcing her support for Hillary Clinton before, halfway through declaring her honest and trustworthy, she says, “Can we cut?”

“What’s the problem?” a man offscreen asks.

The actress tells the man she just can’t say the words. The man, still offscreen, reminds the actress that she’s … acting.

“I’m not that good of an actress,” she says. “Honest and trustworthy. Give me a break.”

At the ad’s conclusion appear the words: “Some people are better liars than others. Stop Hillary.”

The group ran a total of eight TV spots in the Philadelphia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland markets on October 9.

The ads’ sponsor

Make America Number 1 was first formed in April 2015 with a different name, Keep the Promise I, and initially supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.

After Cruz withdrew and Republican businessman Donald Trump effectively clinched the Republican presidential nomination, the group changed its name to Make America Number 1 and announced it would focus on anti-Clinton efforts.

Who’s behind it?

New York investor Robert Mercer has given roughly 90 percent of the group’s money since it started and his daughter, Rebekah, is now overseeing the group’s day-to-day operations.

Both Mercers rarely grant interviews and usually decline to speak publicly about their political giving. They have stood strongly behind Trump through a recent furor after a tape surfaced of crude comments he made about women a decade ago.

“America is finally fed up and disgusted with its political elite,” the Mercers said in a statement. “Trump is channeling this disgust and those among the political elite who quake before the boom-box of media blather do not appreciate the apocalyptic choice that America faces on November 8.”

They continued: “We have a country to save and there is only one person who can save it. We, and Americans across the country and around the world, stand steadfastly behind Donald J. Trump.”

Money in

The group has taken in about $17.4 million since its inception. Robert Mercer has personally contributed $15.5 million.

Out of that total, about $3 million has been raised since the super PAC’s name change and overhaul in June.

Robert Mercer contributed about two-thirds of that $3 million. Philanthropist Cherna Moskowitz, the Miami-based widow of hospital and gaming magnate Irving Moskowitz, gave $1 million in August. Erik Prince, founder of troubled security contracting firm Blackwater, contributed $50,000 in August.

Money out

Make America Number 1 has spent $1.5 million since June on “video production” and “media” in association with the presidential race, according to reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Most of the super PAC’s ads appear online only: its website includes a page with 17 videos about Clinton, featuring titles such as “corruption is a family business” and “corrupt and dangerous.” The group’s YouTube page has even more.

Why it matters

Many of the super PACs supporting Trump have had trouble raising big money.

Outside groups supporting Trump have run 22,238 TV ads since June 12 — about a third of the 65,338 ads run by groups supporting Clinton over the same period, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

But Make America Number 1 has Robert Mercer’s deep pockets to draw on — and the group could potentially provide some serious air cover for Trump.

The Republican presidential nominee continues dropping in national polls after a string of news reports concerning his lewd statements about women and accusations that he groped or sexually harassed several — accusations Trump denies.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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