Facebook Funding Anti-Masker Disinformation Campaign in Connecticut

These perspectives are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.

As the Trumpian right-wing has dissipated over the past year, other far-right groupings have stepped into the void left by the former president’s departure from the public eye. The Libertarian Party of Connecticut (LPCT), whose chair only managed to secure 291 votes last year for the Connecticut General Assembly, served mainly as an auxiliary to the 2020 anti-lockdown protests aimed at Governor Ned Lamont which was otherwise dominated by Trump paraphernalia. The steady noise of those demonstrations heralding a reopening of most sectors of the state led eventually to the gradual uptick in COVID-19 cases last fall in Connecticut, spiking catastrophically over the winter—resulting in thousands of additional (and easily preventable) deaths.

As vaccinations finally drove the COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths dramatically downward in the spring of this year, the LPCT led the way with more demonstrations at the state capitol calling for a total abandonment of health precautions, which Lamont cited in his reasoning (Hartford Courant “What will Gov. Lamont do in Connecticut? July 28th, 2021) for shifting responsibility on mask mandates to municipal governments as the Lamont administration reported hundreds of newly hospitalized Connecticut residents in July and August fueled by the delta variant. The reported figures posted regularly on the governor’s social media accounts easily represent thousands of summer hospitalizations, cumulatively speaking, depending on the average patient’s length of hospital stay.

Unsatisfied with their outsized influence on public health policy, the LPCT launched a new front group called “Unmask Our Kids CT” targeting school health precautions as in-person schooling resumed this fall. UOKC began with a two-pronged plan of attack. LPCT mobilized small but militant contingents at school board meetings and at a press briefing by Lamont. And on August 2nd they invested $630 of their party treasury to buy advertisements on Facebook.

The LPCT’s treasury recently surpassed $10,000 for the first time in years. A 2018 lawsuit settlement gave them a cash infusion, which they promptly spent on gaining ballot access and campaigning for government offices across the state, yielding one victory, with Matthew Radant winning a seat on the Plainfield Board of Education. Between 2019 and the beginning of 2020 their filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) show their cash on hand hovered between four-and-nine thousand dollars at any given time, but between July 1st and October 14th of this year, the LPCT took in $40,172.75. Paradoxically the party that brands itself as fiscally conservative again spent the bulk of this sum as quickly as they received it. This time it yielded a far greater return on their investment than the money they spent trying to elect their members to government office in 2018.

UMOK advertisements on Facebook invariably include appeals for funds which are handled by the LPCT. Their initial investment in Facebook ads for UOKC on August 2nd through the last day listed in their “12th Day Preceding Primary” SEEC filing (August 26th) yielded $19,553 in donations. On August 13th the LPCT made their first payments for UOKC billboards, amounting to $3,150. Five days later they re-invested their funds back to Facebook for $1,800 worth of advertisements. They continued this spending cycle ballooning to a total of $15,400 spent on billboards, $3,975 on TV commercials as well as thousands more in lawn signs and stickers by September 22nd. The LPCT raised $40,172.75 via Mark Zuckerberg’s massive unregulated platform. While Facebook took a cut of $6,400.35, the LPCT was left with substantial funds in their coffers. Nonetheless UOKC posted on Facebook September 22nd that “we’re basically out of funds.”

Determining the exact amount of money flowing through LPCT Chair Jonathan Johnson of New Britain has not been entirely cut and dry. Johnson is listed on Facebook as the person responsible for running advertisements for UOKC, an organization that is entirely the creation of the party he chairs, as well as the CT Liberty Rally, the CT Free Press, and Vaccine Religious Freedom CT (which is the only such page of Johnson’s to have been removed by Facebook for violating its policies against spreading health misinformation). While the dates of the ad purchases listed on Facebook’s Ad Library mostly do not line up with those in their SEEC filings, what is clear is that the LPCT is not digging into its own treasury—they had a war chest of $13,874.66 at the time of their last filing. The funding for their public health disinformation campaign, baselessly eschewing the proven effectiveness of universal masking in indoor public places paired with vaccination, would not be possible if not for the help of the billionaire owners of Facebook.

With Trump no longer broadcasting far-right populism with the biggest microphone on Earth, it would be expected that the power and reach of the LPCT would be reduced once again to nothing more than an organization capable of mobilizing a hundred or two protesters at most. Instead, thanks to Facebook’s financial assistance, the LPCT has massively increased the public prominence and reach of its leaders, while at the same time undermining the public health of the people of Connecticut.

%d bloggers like this: