Billboard magnate pours fortune into unusual effort for Trump

Posted at 11:37 PM, Sep 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-11 07:45:25-04

WASHINGTON — A billionaire backing Donald Trump is taking advertising into his own hands.

Stephen Adams, a billboard magnate who made his fortune in a half-dozen different business ventures over the last five decades, is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a pro-Trump campaign. Yet it is not the Trump campaign or a Trump super PAC that is spending over $650,000 to boost the Republican nominee — it is Adams himself, who his buying his own billboards in a set of swing states.

It is an unusual purchase and a throwback to a previous era when the wealthy had close to unfettered control over how their dollars were spent. Adams disclosed the spending this week in independent expenditure reports almost always filed by political action committees or nonprofits, rather than individuals: $150,000 in North Carolina, $200,000 in Pennsylvania and $300,000 in Michigan.

That is not a trivial amount of money, given the long struggles of Trump high-dollar efforts. If donated to a PAC — staffed by professional operatives and fundraisers — Adams would instantly become one of Trump’s top donors.

But Adams is hanging a shingle.

“Mr. Adams is a long-time supporter of, and contributor to, the Republican Party,” said an Adams aide, Rich Zecchino. “He has contributed these advertisements to the presidential campaign in furtherance of that historical support.”

The digital billboards produced by his company, Adams Outdoor Advertising, are not flashy, with simple white text reading “For the people” overlayed on a navy background accompanied with an American flag. The bottom reads “Trump Pence 2016” in bold.

And it is not the first time that Adams has gone outside the normal campaign finance system to support his chosen candidate. A Republican donor for decades, Adams financed similar billboard campaigns in 2000 and 2004, federal election records show, spending $1 million each cycle in order, when asked on federal forms for the purpose of his independent expenditure, “to win election.”

The closest comparison in this cycle? Jeb Bush top donor Miguel Fernandez — who despite giving millions to Bush’s super PAC — chose to buy $40,000 of his own ads in swing-state newspapers to bash Trump.