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Published — October 25, 2016

Will mushroom clouds turn Ohio voters away from Donald Trump?

Bill Bradley-backed super PAC spending big on atomic bomb-themed ads

This article was co-published with TIME.


A new TV ad evoking one of the most famous political ads in U.S. history is painting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as too dangerous to be commander-in-chief. And it’s not subtle about it.

The spot from the Fifty Second Street Fund, a newly formed super PAC targeting Ohio voters, features footage of an atomic bomb detonating.

“One nuclear bomb can kill a million people,” a narrator says as a mushroom cloud erupts. “That’s more than all the men, women and children living in Columbus, Ohio.”

The ad then features an exchange from a March 2016 town hall program during which MSNBC’s Chris Matthews presses Trump on why the United States shouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons in war.

“They’re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking, maybe, about using nuclear weapons — nobody wants to hear that,” Matthews tells Trump.

“Then, why are we making them?” Trump fires back at Matthews.

The ad ends with the words “Be careful who you vote for” on screen as another nuclear bomb explodes.

The weeklong ad campaign cost more than $820,000, according to information provided to the Center for Public Integrity by national ad buying firms.

The threat of nuclear war was also a central theme to the 1964 “Daisy” ad by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. In that ad, Johnson says that “we must love one another or die” — a line from the same W. H. Auden poem that the Fifty Second Street Fund derives its name.

The ad’s sponsor

Fifty Second Street Fund is a new player in presidential politics — although its founder, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, is not.

Bradley is a former professional basketball player who served three terms in the U.S. Senate, representing the state of New Jersey from 1979 until 1997. In 2000, he unsuccessfully ran for president, losing the Democratic Party’s nomination to then-Vice President Al Gore.

Bradley, in a statement released today by the Fifty Second Street Fund, called Trump “a danger to all Americans.”

The Fifty Second Street Fund is little more than a month old, having submitted incorporation paperwork with the state of Massachusetts on Sept. 21. About a week later, the group filed official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to become a super PAC.

Its barebones website — which launched on Sept. 30, according to Internet domain registration records — currently features the poem “September 1, 1939,” written by Auden on the day that World War II began.

And the lone video published so far on the group’s nascent YouTube page is its new nuclear bomb-themed ad, which first aired on Monday.

Who’s behind it?

Massachusetts lawyer Matthew T. Henshon — a partner at Henshon Klein, LLP — is listed as the treasurer of the Fifty Second Street Fund on its filings with the FEC. He’s also listed as the group’s manager and registered agent on its corporate filing with the state of Massachusetts.

Henshon previously worked as Bradley’s traveling chief of staff during Bradley’s failed presidential bid, according to Henshon’s LinkedIn profile.

State and federal campaign finance records show Henshon has also made modest contributions to a smattering of Democratic candidates over the years, including $1,000 to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in 2012; $750 to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign; $1,000 to Obama’s 2008 presidential bid; and $27 to Bernie Sanders the day after Sanders bested Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s presidential primary in February.

Henshon, who did not respond to requests for comment, additionally serves as the co-chairman of the artificial intelligence and robotics committee of the American Bar Association.

Money in

Henshon is also the super PAC’s first donor — and he’s so far the only known donor, having contributed $1,000 to the group on Sept. 21.

It’s unclear who else has helped fill the group’s coffers with hundreds of thousands of dollars. The super PAC must file its next campaign finance report by midnight Thursday, which will detail its income and expenses from Oct. 1 to Oct. 19.

Mike Czin, a spokesman for the Fifty Second Street Fund, told the Center for Public Integrity that the super PAC is financially supported by “a bipartisan group of folks who are all equally horrified of Trump having his finger on the nuclear button.”

Money out

The Fifty Second Street Fund has purchased more than $820,000 of advertising in Ohio’s Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati media markets, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by The Tracking Firm, a nonpartisan ad tracking firm based in Washington, D.C.

Of that sum, about $518,000 is going toward broadcast TV ads, while about $305,000 is funding cable ads.

Tim Kay, director of political strategy at advertising firm NCC Media, told the Center for Public Integrity that Fifty Second Street Fund’s cable buy was targeting a “general audience,” purchasing spots on networks including CNN, ESPN, MSNBC, TNT and USA.

Why it matters

Ohio is one of the most important swing states of the 2016 presidential election, and polls there show a tight race between Trump and Clinton.

The Buckeye State has seen about 15,700 TV ads so far this month, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG. That’s more than any other state except Florida — and amounts to nearly one TV ad every two minutes in Ohio.

Said Czin, the super PAC spokesman: “The goal is to make the stakes of the election crystal clear given how reckless Donald Trump has been.”

Most Democratic donors seeking to give to a pro-Clinton super PAC operation have chosen to donate directly to Priorities USA Action, which has raised about $175 million since January 2015.

Yet, as the Fifty Second Street Fund demonstrates, sometimes donors want to take matters into their own hands to implement their own creative visions, or target specific voters with a specific message.

Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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