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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

In the second half of 2020, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign shelled out seven figures to an influencer marketing business linked to his White House’s former chief digital officer.

Why it matters: The payments bought promotion from prominent conservative brands and social media personalities, showing how campaigns are exploring new, often more opaque digital advertising channels as large social media companies crack down on political ads.

What’s new: Filings with the Federal Election Commission show the Trump campaign paid nearly $1.8 million during the second half of 2020 to Legendary Campaigns LLC for “online advertising.”

  • Legendary Campaigns is a "partner organization" of another company called Urban Legend, according to that firm's president, Sondra Clark.
  • Until February 2020, Clark was the director of marketing and campaigns for the White House. Ory Rinat, who was the White House's chief digital officer until last June, is Urban Legend's CEO.

Urban Legend and Legendary Campaigns offer influencers fees in exchange for driving engagement — such as email signups, donations and purchases — for the firms' clients.

  • Urban Legend's clients have included Heritage Action for America and the 2020 congressional campaign of Republican Angela Stanton-King of Georgia, according to public records and a company pitch deck obtained by Axios.
  • The Trump campaign is the only federal political committee that has reported paying Legendary Campaigns, which Clark described as Urban Legend's politically focused affiliate.
  • Clark and an Urban Legend spokesperson did not address more specific questions about the content Legendary Campaigns placed for the campaign, or the influencers it paid for that promotion.
  • Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg used a similar platform to enlist paid influencers to promote his 2020 presidential campaign.

The bottom line: A campaign buying digital ads on platforms like Facebook and Instagram would generally have to disclose that spending publicly. Enlisting third-party creators makes political advertising harder to track.

  • The Urban Legend pitch deck cited conservative influencer Rob Smith's work promoting Heritage Action's congressional scorecard last year. But a pair of Smith tweets aligned with that campaign contained no indication he was paid for the effort.
  • Urban Legend requires its creators to comply with all relevant paid advertiser disclosure rules.
  • Its brand of marketing nonetheless makes it more difficult to determine what social media content, or how much of it, Legendary Campaigns helped produce for the Trump campaign.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Science

COVID time warp

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago to some, and just yesterday to others. Scientists are beginning to unpack the way people processed the passage of time amidst the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the 1 year, 8 months and 21 days since WHO declared a pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic's global effects on how people experience time could provide new insights into the brain's ability to perceive and predict time — a fundamental feature of life.

Mitt Romney calls Ray Dalio's China investments a "sad moral lapse"

Sen. Mitt Romney walks to a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Oct. 7. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday criticized billionaire Ray Dalio's investments in China, writing in a tweet that "his feigned ignorance of China's horrific abuses and rationalization of complicit investments there is a sad moral lapse."

Driving the news: Romney's comments come after Dalio's firm, Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, raised $1.3 billion in November for a new private fund in China, Bloomberg reports.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.