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ARGENTINA | 26-04-2023 22:59

Big-spending Córdoba leads way as politicians splash cash on social media

Data showing the biggest spenders on Meta over the last 90 days reveals huge investments from Córdoba; Schiaretti and Lousteau coughing up the most, though keep an eye on ‘satellite’ accounts used to hide spending.

The municipality of Córdoba, administered by gubernatorial candidate Martín Llayrona, an ally of current provincial Governor Juan Schiaretti, has spent 137 million pesos on social media advertising in the last 90 days alone, according to records accessed by Perfil.

The investment is the largest by a political group in that time period by a wide margin, though curiously the second-biggest spending account belongs to the Córdoba Province Government, which is led by Schiaretti and spent 32 million pesos.

Trailing in third place was Radical Senator Martín Lousteau, who handed over almost 19 million pesos to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to become the biggest individual political spender and boost his campaign to be the next mayor of Buenos Aires City.

However, according to one social media expert and political strategist, there are also “satellite” accounts to consider, which are used to disguise spending and avoid concentrating the money invested in a single account. An investigation of records reveals that two of Schiaretti's supportive accounts were also in fourth and fifth place in terms of the highest network spending over the last 90 days, with a total of 53 million pesos.

The data comes from Meta and represents the period spanning January 24 to April 23 of this year. Among the top politicians and pre-candidates who spent the most are also Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Gerardo Morales and Diego Santilli, all of whom play on the same side (doves) of the Juntos por el Cambio coalition. 

The local governments of Quilmes (governed by Mayra Mendoza) and Esteban Echeverría (governed by Fernando Gray) are the other municipalities that have invested the most so far, spending more than six million pesos each. 

At the other end of the scale, Patricia Bullrich, Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro and Juan Grabois are the most austere of the group. Milei and Scioli do not even have official accounts with advertising yet, though it is expected they will deploy funds closer to the elections.

Neither Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Alberto Fernández, Sergio Massa nor Axel Kicillof have spent a single peso, something experts attribute to 'management responsibilities,' which push campaign investments and time into other sectors. 

Protocols put in place by Meta (the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) have changed in recent years as part of a move towards political transparency. To that end, the firm has now established a library of expenses for reference.

Using the data, Perfil compiled a ranking of the top 20 biggest-spending political accounts on Meta social networks over the past 90 days.


Big spenders

The political account that spent the most money on advertising was the Municipality of Córdoba, with an investment of 137 million pesos. 

That’s no coincidence – Córdoba City Mayor Martín Llayrona is running as a gubernatorial candidate and he has just entered into a political partnership with the incumbent governor, Juan Schiaretti, who also shows a clear pattern of spending through this channel. The second-biggest spending account is the government of Cordoba, at just over 32 million pesos.

But that’s not all. Three other accounts – "Piensa Distinto", "Levantémonos" and "Es Hora de levantarse" occupy fourth, fifth and sixth place, and are all "satellite" accounts that answer to Schiaretti. Between them, the trio invested 53 million pesos over the past 90 days.

Daniel Vico, a specialist in social media strategy for political campaigns, said in an interview that this is a common tactic to avoid concentrating total spend under a single account.

 "They create different disclaimers, they distribute it across several. Others use indirect pages,” Vico told Perfil. “There are 'A' accounts, which are the official ones, 'B' accounts, which are groups of support pages, and 'C' accounts, which do not usually talk about politics except a week before an election, or which carry out a monthly action focused on speaking well of a politician, and they advertise that post.”

Picking out an example, the analyst highlighted the ‘Piensa Distinto’ page, which he classified as a 'B' account. "It was in support of Schiaretti. It was created on February 27 and with only 300 fans it invested a crazy amount in one month," he observed.

In third place in social media spend over the past 90 days was Martín Lousteau, the Unión Cívica Radical senator who wants to be Horacio Rodríguez Larreta's successor in Buenos Aires City. Lousteau spent almost 19 million pesos, becoming the politician who spent the most money from a single account. 

To take a point of comparison, another declared pre-candidates for City mayor, Jorge Macri, spent only 47,000 pesos.

Libertarian lawmaker Ramiro Marra, who handed over 195,000 pesos, went viral on Wednesday after hammering Nicolás del Caño of the Frente de Izquierda for spending “more than 13 million pesos” on Meta ads. "These lefties who use iPhones and criticise capitalism from Starbucks are terrible," he posted.

However, it must be said that the amount Marra is talking about – 13.5 million pesos – represents total investment since the creation of Del Caño's account in 2019. In rankings breaking down just the last 90 days, the FIT deputy has spent 600,000 pesos, putting him outside the top 20 biggest spenders in Argentina. His colleague Myriam Bregman, for example, spent close to one million pesos.  

In the case of Frente de Todos deputy Leandro Santoro, a likely mayoral candidate in The City, zero pesos were invested.


Diversified support

"There are many accounts that today have spent nothing or very little, but that closer to the elections will spend more," Vico explained in an interview.

"Politicians who have more than one campaign under their belts and a high political profile will have realised this and have begun to diversify their satellite accounts, so as not to appear among those who spend the most,” he added.

This applies to the case of the "Con Larreta" account, an unofficial account that was the eighth-biggest spender in the last 90 days before the records were published, with a total spend of more than eight million pesos. In contrast, the official account of the current head of the Buenos Aires City government spent almost 1.5 million pesos from the end of January this year up until now.

"In general, these accounts are not militants but people who receive money in exchange for posting photos and messages in support of candidates. The same thing happened with the accounts of Dylan Fernández, the president's dog, who even had several verified accounts tweeting from a more playful point of view," clarified the expert

The same is expected to happen with Milei, for example, who has many satellite accounts but no official account yet that invests in advertising under his name.

The national government's Media & Public Communications Secretariat was the seventh-biggest spender, with its "Primero la Gente" account spending almost 13 million pesos. 

In ninth place was a satellite account of the Neuquén Popular Movement (MPN) candidate for governor of Neuquén, Marcos Koopmann, the current vice-governor, who weeks ago lost the election to Rolando Figueroa. "Marcos for Neuquén" spent 6.7 million pesos.

The municipalities of Quilmes and Esteban Echeverría (led by mayors Mayra Mendoza and Fernando Gray respectively) came in 10th and11th place, spending just over six million pesos each. 

Rounding out the top 20 spenders were: Frente de Todos por Santa Fe national deputy Roberto Mirabella (5.8 million pesos), former JxC candidate for governor of Neuquén Pablo Cervi (5.3 million pesos), Salta Governor Gustavo Sáenz (4.2 million pesos), the Salta Province government (4.1 million pesos), the municipality of Vicente López (4 million pesos), the political organisation "Mística," which promotes the presidential candidacy of Gerardo Morales (3.9 million pesos) and La Pampa Province Governor Sergio Zilio Ziliotto (3.6 million pesos).

Amid rumours of an agreed formula, and In what could be just a coincidence, Rodríguez Larreta and Jujuay leader Morales have spent the same on advertising so far this year: 1.48 million pesos.

Diego Santilli, opposition pre-candidate for Buenos Aires Province governor, has spent the most to date, 2.87 million pesos. National deputy and presidential hopeful María Eugenia Vidal and Cristian Ritondo, her pre-candidate for provincial governor, have spent 1.21 million and 1.03 million pesos respectively.


Different approaches

In conversation with Perfil, Vico argued that candidates with existing management responsibilities tend to invest more in tours and other campaign strategies, not so much in online ads. This explains why neither Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Alberto Fernández, Sergio Massa, Axel Kicillof, nor Agustín Rossi have spent a single peso so far this year on Meta. 

It remains to be seen whether some of them will decide to invest when the time comes. Neither Scioli nor Milei have an official website so far, so they have no official expenses either.

Among those who did invest, but only minimally, was Patricia Bullrich (253,000 pesos), Juan Grabois (1,500 pesos) and accounts in favour of Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro’s presidential candidacy ("Wado 2023" and "Jóvenes con Wado", which together account for 430,000 pesos).

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Julian D'Imperio

Julian D'Imperio

Redactor Especial de Política de PERFIL. Mail: [email protected]


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