Tucson Democratic candidates advertising on right-wing website
At least two Democrats running in Tucson's city election have campaign ads appearing on the right-wing website the "Arizona Daily Independent."
The mostly anonymously credited blog is run by Lori Hunnicutt, a staffer for a Republican county supervisor, Ally Miller, and features predictable conspiracy-oriented posts, copied press releases and commentary from local GOP activists.
Network campaign ads from Democrats Randi Dorman, one of a trio in the mayoral primary, and Rob Elias, who is among the four primary candidates in Ward 1 on the West Side, were being displayed on the blog on Thursday. Among the pages showing their ads was a post by Chris King, the first vice chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, with the headline "Ward 1 Resident Murdered, Tucson Council And Mayor Have Blood On Their Hands" next to a photo of Regina Romero — who is a member of the City Council and another Democratic mayoral candidate.
Both campaigns quickly disavowed any connection with the content of the blog.
Dorman was running an auto-play video commercial that showed up on numerous pages of the site. The ad for Elias was a simple blue box saying "Rob Elias for Tucson City Council."
Both candidates acknowledged that the ads were from their election efforts, but said that they did not specifically choose to spend campaign dollars on the site. Both ads were run through Google Ads, a national advertising platform that allows advertisers to run banners and videos on multiple websites through a wide network.
"Our advertising follows the voter and is not site specific," Elias briefly replied when asked about the ads.
"We are not advertising on that site specifically; it is because you are looking at it and it is targeting you," Dorman said.
Both Dorman's and Elias's ads appeared in incognito private windows, rather than being targeted to any specific profile with a cookie. DJ Quinlan, a consultant for Elias, said that a contractor for the campaign is also tracking individual Tucson voters by IP address and the device ID of specific computers and smartphones, and targeting ads with that information.
Dorman quickly said that "we are not advertising on them specifically" and "we have blacklisted it because in no way would we want to be associated with it."
The Google Ads platform allows ad buyers to list specific sites on which they will not allow their ads to appear. It also allows site operators to blacklist specific advertisers, and block ad types.
"That ad showed up because you went to that site, not because we bought an ad there," Quinlan said. "We would never do that."
The Elias campaign is targeting voters specifically in Ward 1, he said.
A TucsonSentinel.com investigation in 2016 showed that other Miller staffers, prior to Hunnicutt's county employment, participated in editing the purportedly "independent" blog posts prior to their being published.
Some wags in the county building refer to the site as the "Ally Defense Initiative" due to its cheerleading for the District 1 supervisor.
TucsonSentinel.com, which does not accept networked Google Ads but instead works directly with local small businesses, nonprofits and other groups, has sold campaign advertising this election to two opponents of Dorman and Elias. Mayoral candidate Romero and City Council candidate Lane Santa Cruz have both run campaign ads on this site.
Dorman is facing Steve Farley and Romero in the mayoral primary. Elias is facing Sami Hamed, Miguel Ortega and Santa Cruz in the Ward 1 primary.
As a matter of policy, TucsonSentinel.com does not endorse or oppose any political candidates or ballot measures, and will accept campaign ads from all qualified candidates, political organizations and other interest groups.
Advertising networks such as Google's are widely seen by media industry experts as being a prime factor in the crisis facing local journalism. Only small fractions of a network ad's cost are paid out to the websites they run on; most of the funds remain with Google and associated middleman services.
With billions of dollars in total revenues being redirected to national technology platforms Google and Facebook, nearly 2,000 local newspapers have closed across the United States in the past 15 years. Just in Tucson alone, there are several hundred fewer reporters and editors watchdogging city officials, businesses and political groups, compared to just more than a decade ago. In other communities, "news deserts" have grown in the wake of a lack of local reporting, with others served only by "ghost newspapers" — "zombies" that have just a handful of journalists on staff.