Less than a month after receiving a $200,000 donation from mega-donors Robert and Diana Mercer, the super PAC backing Senator John McCain’s Republican primary opponent, Kelli Ward, reported paying $450,000 to Cambridge Analytica, the ‘psychographic’ data firm owned by Robert Mercer.
Ward has been largely unable to persuade donors and outside groups to make significant investments in her long-shot candidacy, so the Mercers’ $200,000 donation to KelliPAC on July 22 was notable. It was the largest donation the super PAC has reported receiving all cycle, and it came after Robert Mercer personally maxed out to Ward’s campaign, donating $5,400 — half for the primary, half for the general —in June.
According to an independent-expenditure report filed this week, KelliPAC paid $450,000 to Cambridge Analytica for “Analytics” and “TV media purchase” on August 18. According to the filing, KelliPAC has paid Cambridge Analytica $710,303.09 so far this cycle.
“Cambridge has always been one of the names that floats around as a top-notch, data-driven campaign model, and so it was just always kind of something that we wanted to try,” says Doug McKee, the treasurer of KelliPAC. He says there was no discussion with the Mercers about using the firm, nor did the Mercers make any request that they do so.
Still, it’s become a familiar pattern: Most of the candidates who have employed Cambridge Analytica have been the recipients of donations from the Mercers. Earlier in the cycle, Ted Cruz, then the favored candidate of the Mercers, used the firm extensively. By early August, the company had begun doing work for Donald Trump, whom the Mercers now support. John Bolton Super PAC, which received $3 million in contributions from Robert Mercer in 2014 and 2015, has paid Cambridge Analytica nearly $800,000 in 2015 and 2016, according to FEC filings. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica declined to comment.
To be sure, there are some exceptions to the trend. Rick Kozell, who is running in a crowded primary in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, paid Cambridge Analytica $5,000 this year, but he has not received any money from Robert or Diana Mercer, nor from their daughter Rebekah. The same is true of Roy Blunt, whose campaign paid the company $12,000 for “data services” in 2015.
The donation from the Mercers has helped fund a $600,000 independent-expenditure campaign attacking McCain and boosting Ward in the final weeks of the race. McCain suggested on Wednesday that the Mercers were seeking to oust him in retaliation for a report he co-authored that named Robert Mercer’s company, Renaissance Financial, as one of several that dodged tax payments.
It’s not clear that the Mercers’ investment will make a difference. A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday found McCain leading Ward 55 percent to 29 percent.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since it’s original publication.