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Internet focus allows super PAC to stay lean

Screengrab from YouTube user FakePoliticians of Fake Newt Gingrich. (SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO, WITH PERMISSION FROM FAKEPOLITICIANS)

One of these “super PACs” is not like the others.

Endorse Liberty, an interest group with the sole purpose of helping Rep. Ron Paul’s bid for the presidency, has spent $3.1 million this year without expensive campaign consultants or a full-time staff member.

Super PACs such as Endorse Liberty have come to be a powerful new force in the 2012 Republican nomination contest. The groups, created as part of the fallout from the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, have spent $30 million attacking and supporting the GOP candidates, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Endorse Liberty, the fourth-largest super PAC in the GOP nomination contest, was set up by four like-minded businessmen: two friends who work together at a company that sells a tongue brush, a Utah venture capitalist and a Texas marketing consultant the others met through another Paul super PAC. Three of four are younger than 35.

Most of the independent groups have tight links to their favored campaign, often being run by the candidate’s former staff and fueled by their current donors. Not so for Endorse Liberty — none of the four founders or their staff has links to Paul or his campaign.

Another quirk: The group has spent almost all of its money on Internet advertising, bypassing the conventional methods of reaching voters through television commercials and direct mail.

“We’re big believers in online marketing,” said Abe Niederhauser, 28, the group’s treasurer.

Niederhauser and another of the founders use social networks, online videos and other digital tools in their day jobs to market the Orabrush, a tongue scraper designed to eliminate bad breath. The company created a marketing campaign using videos of a giant tongue, dubbed “Morgan.”

Endorse Liberty has adopted similar tactics. The PAC’s campaign uses actors who impersonate the other candidates. One introduces himself as “Fake Mitt Romney” in a video endorsing Ron Paul.

The all-digital approach is something of a novelty in politics. Political campaigns have been slower than other advertisers to move their spending online, something that is beginning to change.

“Everybody expects digital budgets to be increasing,” said Paul Winn, political director for the Smart Media Group and a digital consultant to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. “The disagreement is how fast it’s going to grow.”

While it is difficult to compare spending on political ads online to spending on television and other media, Internet advertising is on the rise. Online ad spending is expected to be $40 billion this year, eclipsing print outlets such as newspapers and magazines, according to a report from eMarketer.

Endorse Liberty pays Google to have its spots run with YouTube videos being watched by people in the early caucus and primary states. So far, its videos have been viewed 7 million times.

A current 51-second spot highlights data showing that Paul raises the most money from active-duty troops while Romney leads in donations from lobbyists, asking “Do you trust the troops? Or the lobbyists?”

The videos direct people to a Web site,, with a 12-minute clip featuring Paul’s policy positions.

“Fewer people watch a 12-minute video,” Niederhauser said, “but it’s hard to imagine that a 30-second video is going to change someone’s mind. These videos are meant to educate.”

The group has spent $2.3 million with Google and $119,000 with Facebook, federal records show. Facebook allows the PAC to target people in specific states and to find people based on how they have identified their political ideology.

Endorse Liberty formed in December with money from a small group of major donors who tend to come from the technology industry, Niederhauser said.

The Internet focus of the group has allowed it to stay lean. For example, there’s no need to assemble focus groups to test advertisements when their performance online can be quickly tested.

“I guess the process is that there’s not really an official process,” Niederhauser said. “We run them all and see what the response is.”

In Iowa, the group targeted college towns, with the expectation that younger demographics would mean a receptive audience to Paul’s platform.

“I just got on Google maps and started searching for universities and colleges, things like that,” Niederhauser said.

The group has had a few hiccups: In the early primary states, the advertising inventory had often already been purchased. The suspicion was that Mitt Romney’s campaign had beat it to the punch.

The three founders of the group who live in Utah get together occasionally, but most of their organizing is through a constant stream of e-mails. They’re also still doing their day jobs — in Niederhauser’s case, that means marketing the tongue scraper.

“It’s busy,” he said.

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