Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hasn’t announced that he's running for president in 2020, and members of his staff have been tight-lipped about his intentions. But if money talks, his campaign organization spoke up — loudly and suddenly — this month.
Friends of Bernie Sanders, the senator's campaign committee, spent big on Facebook ads in January after lying largely dormant for the last three months of 2018. The splurge hit a high of $45,908 last week, around the same time that Yahoo News reported Sanders will launch a presidential campaign "imminently."
The campaign's most recent big buy landed it in the top 20 for weekly political ad spending on Facebook, trailing companies such as ExxonMobil, advocacy groups such as MoveOn, and presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Sanders' campaign spent a total of $85,439 on Facebook ads over the past four weeks.
Friends of Bernie Sanders staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.
Facebook makes public any weekly political ad spending above $500. The first weekly report available is from October 14, 2018. According to a Seven Days analysis, Friends of Bernie Sanders spent $996 on a Facebook ad in mid-October, then didn’t pay more than $500 for ads until 2019 began.
That's when something changed.
The campaign spent $1,067 on Facebook ads during the first week of the new year, then $36,765 the following week. Friends of Bernie Sanders paid $1,699 for ads on the social media site during the week beginning January 13, while last week's bill came to $45,908.
The ads appear in Facebook users' timelines as sponsored posts, and advertisers are able to target the messages geographically and demographically. Some asked users to sign a petition to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for money in politics. Others solicited donations for a potential Sanders' presidential run in 2020. One series of ads encouraged users to add their name "as a citizen co-sponsor of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All, single-payer health care bill."
Data show that Sanders' team was not necessarily focused on the Green Mountain State. Vermont-based users made up less than 1 percent of the audience for at least 10 of the most recent ads.
Facebook provides data on total spending between May 2018 and January 26, 2019, which shows that Friends of Bernie Sanders spent $219,803. About 39 percent of that total was spent in January.
Other ad spending by the campaign isn't visible in the Facebook reports, though it eventually becomes public through filings with the Federal Election Commission.