A super PAC undermined a key Jeb Bush campaign promise in an attempt to be high tech

Innovation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Innovation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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With the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries just around the corner, a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is pulling out all the stops to reach voters in those states.

The group Right to Rise USA is sending out video players—like those sold by Hallmark to send recorded messages to family and friends—pre-loaded with a 15-minute documentary about Bush called “The Jeb Story,” the Washington Post reported.

The push is a twist on direct-mail campaigns that are being used more often in major political races to target specific constituencies—in this case, Iowa and New Hampshire voters.

Right to Rise would not say how many video players were packaged and shipped, but told the publication they went to “select influencers, donors and core supporters” in the states.

“I disagree with 99% of what Jeb Bush says, but I thought the ad was super cool,” John Balduzzi, head of democratic consultancy Balduzzi Group, told Quartz.

Unfortunately for Bush, not everyone thinks so. The ad campaign threatened to undermine a key part of Bush’s election bid: cutting spending. The seemingly costly mailers led some people to question how fiscally conservative a president he would be.

However, the backlash on social media may be over naught. The video players aren’t “DVD players” or “iPad mini-esque” tablets as described in tweets by some recipients, but rather LCD displays like you might find in a video greeting card.

Right to Rise told CBS News that the video-mailer campaign cost “four figures,” or a few thousand dollars. Comparable video players are sold wholesale on Alibaba for $5 to $20 and retail for $20 to $40 on Amazon.

“I wouldn’t send it out to tens of thousands of people to try to sway their votes, but sending out a few hundred to a few influencers—it makes perfect sense,” said Balduzzi. “Just the buzz it’s gotten from free media was probably worth the expense.”

The mailers were also paid for with independent super PAC funds, not Bush’s campaign dollars. And he probably had nothing to do with the effort, because that would be a illegal. Political-action committees like Right to Rise are not allowed to collaborate with candidates or coordinate expenses.

Balduzzi said Right to Rise was probably aiming for something unique and unexpected with the mailer. “It speaks to [the super PAC’s] level of sophistication,” he said. “The Jeb Bush for President campaign definitely wasn’t going to produce something of this manner.”

Right to Rise is also trying to raise $300,000 to run a regional Super Bowl commercial aimed at New Hampshire voters. As of this writing, it’s raised one third of the funds needed to buy local ad time in the big game. 

Overall, Right to Rise has raised more than $100 million for Bush in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Right to Rise did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment.