FWIW: Republicans seek revenge in statehouses

The online fights over voting rights and trans healthcare

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: as the Biden administration continues pushing forward with concrete solutions to end the pandemic and bolster economic recovery, Republicans want to talk about literally anything else. As they have been unable to break through on Capitol Hill, conservatives have sought wins in statehouses across the country, seeking to curtail Americans’ rights on issues from transgender healthcare to voting. In this week’s FWIW, we’ll track how Republicans are using their dominance in state legislatures to pass legislation that negatively impacts millions of Americans and weakens our democracy. 

But first…

A lot happened this week nationally in the information wars online. The Washington Post looked at a large-scale conservative content operation that aims to persuade voters in swing states on Facebook. The New York Times revealed some *insane* online fundraising techniques used by the Trump campaign, and later learned that the NRCC is scamming their supporters too (maybe that’s how they raised so much last quarter). Both stories are 💯% worth a read. 

By the numbers

In the advertising space, it looks like Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign has launched their first YouTube ads, making them one of the biggest spenders on the platform last week. They’re using these ads to promote McAuliffe’s record on criminal justice, especially the restoration of some Virginians’ voting rights during his first term.

Here’s how last week’s top spenders on Google break down:

FWIW, here are the top spenders on political ads on Facebook from last week:

Last week, the Democratic Governors Association mounted a major online fundraising & acquisition push using Facebook ads, spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars on ads featuring Stacey Abrams, President Biden, and VP Harris. After Sandy Hook Promise and Facebook’s own ad campaign, the DGA is the largest spender on Facebook political ads in 2021. 

Also on Facebook, fringe right-wing news site Newsmax is spending a pretty penny these days on ads that either promote their own shows, or are spamming their audiences with special product offers. The outlet spent nearly $100,000 last week on these types of ads:

...and here are the top spenders on Snapchat so far this year. Among top spenders, the only significant movement has been End Citizens United, which spent $2,651 thanking Sens. Jon Tester, Jacky Rosen, Tom Carper, and Maggie Hassan for supporting the For the People Act.

We also saw that the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC has spent $5,369 on ads in Louisiana’s 2nd District supporting Karen Carter Peterson in the special House election there. We also found that the League of Conservation Voters has spent $5,583 on ads targeting Arizona and Georgia thanking Sens. Mark Kelly, Kyrsten Sinema, Jon Ossoff, and Raphael Warnock, also for supporting the For the People Act.

Jim Crow 2.0

Republicans in state legislatures are using Trump’s Big Lie to enact the most restrictive voting laws in decades, starting in Georgia. Copycat bills are now cropping up in other Republican-controlled states, but at least a dozen pro-democracy groups have collectively spent around $350,000 on Facebook ads alone against these efforts.

Fair Fight Action is one of the biggest spenders at over $175k on Facebook ads in the past month, but other groups include SEIU, Progress Georgia, and the ACLU


Bullying trans youth

Dan Pfeiffer wrote an excellent piece in his Message Box this week about how Dems should understand why and how Republicans use culture wars to distract and divide. Well, constant Fox News chyrons focusing on Mister Potato Head’s gender have now given way into actual attacks on transgender youth across the country. 

Last week, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill curtailing healthcare services for trans youth, overriding the Republican governor’s veto and the advice of pretty much every medical association in the country. Nationally, opportunistic Republicans have spun the issue of trans rights into a “defense of girl’s sports” to mislead, misinform, and fire up their base.

More bills are being introduced from West Virginia to Montana. We took a deep dive into the fight over the Arkansas bill, how conservative groups and politicians are integrating this messaging into their online efforts, and how advocates are pushing back online. 


That’s it for FWIW this week. Before we go, we have one more request for you - we’ve propped up a new Twitter handle to share a steady drumbeat of FWIW content throughout the week. Give us a follow and a shout out!