A new pro-Trump super PAC ad uses stock footage from Russia and Belarus in a major ad buy that’s airing in three swing states. It’s the fourth time in three months that an ad promoting President Donald Trump’s reelection has used footage from Russia.
America First Action last Thursday launched an ad called “Pandemic Tax” in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as part of a $10 million ad campaign slamming Joe Biden for supporting bad trade deals and arguing that he would raise taxes on “all of us.” But some of the people featured in the ad were actors in stock footage from Russia and Belarus.
At about 14 seconds in, the ad features a shot of new parents in dark silhouettes holding up their baby in front of a window as the phrase “HIGHER TAXES ON EVERY INCOME GROUP” appears on the screen. That specific footage, titled “Man And Woman Playing With Baby Near The Window,” is available for sale for $65 on stock footage website Pond5 by a user who goes by Kmikidov.
The same footage is available on Shutterstock by a user of the same name, whose profile links to the Facebook page of Konstantin Mikidov, which lists his location as the Russian city of Novosibirsk in Siberia. He didn’t respond to requests for comment sent through his Pond5 and Facebook accounts.
Two seconds later in the ad, an elderly woman is seen staring out a window as the phrase “HIGHER TAXES ON MIDDLE CLASS RETIREMENT” appears on the screen. That footage, labeled “Old Woman Looking Out The Window Stock Video,” is marketed for $60 on iStockphoto. The other terms that footage also comes with on that website are: “Belarus, Senior Adult, Depression – Sadness, Sadness, Loneliness.”
The creator of that footage is “Zdyma4.” A user by that name has a profile on stock footage website Dreamstime and lists the name “Viachaslau Rutkouski.” Rutkouski has a LinkedIn profile that says he is a photographer in Belarus and also uses Zdyma4 as a pseudonym. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.
America First Action is chaired by Linda McMahon, the former head of the Small Business Administration and the co-founder of the professional wrestling company WWE with her husband Vince McMahon. As of Aug. 31, the group had raised $82 million for the 2020 cycle.
“We also used video footage taken in China in multiple ads,” said Kelly Sadler, a spokesperson for America First, when asked for comment. She offered links to an Obama White House video of Biden speaking on U.S.-China relations at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, when he was vice president in Aug. 2011, and an America First ad that includes footage of Biden in China.
“Clearly they trusted but did not verify the stock footage,” joked Max Steele, a spokesperson for pro-Democratic super PAC American Bridge, which flagged the snafu to POLITICO.
This is the fourth time a Trump-affiliated group has used Russian footage in an ad. A digital ad last month released by a fundraising arm of the Trump campaign called on people to “support our troops” but used a stock photo of Russian-made fighter jets and Russian models dressed as soldiers.
Another Trump campaign ad also used footage of a conveyor belt with cardboard boxes saying “MADE IN THE USA” that was created by a Russian photographer and illustrator, and a pre-recorded video at the Republican National Convention used stock footage of a factory in Moscow.