Candidates, campaigns and companies have unleashed a flood of Facebook advertisements related to impeachment, and it might come as no surprise that President Trump and his re-election campaign are far outspending everyone else.
But last week, the second biggest spender was an entity you might not be familiar with: a purveyor of pepper, paprika and poppy seeds based in Wisconsin.
Penzeys Spices, a family-owned company in Wauwatosa, spent nearly $92,000 on Facebook advertisements related to impeachment from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, according to data from a communications agency that tracks political spending.
(That was eclipsed by Mr. Trump and his campaign, which spent more than $700,000.)
Bill Penzey, the company’s owner, could not immediately be reached on Friday. But he told The Chicago Tribune that his wife “just about spit out her coffee laughing” when she heard that the company had spent more on Facebook impeachment ads than everyone but the president.
He added that though he had received some criticism from conservative clients, it was worth it to make a stand.
“I think the luxury of not being on a side is something of the past,” he said. “You lose some customers, you gain more customers. I think we’ve gained a lot more than we’ve lost.”
Penzeys sells spices online and has dozens of brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.
The data on Facebook impeachment ads, which was reported by Axios on Wednesday, came from Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications agency based in Washington whose 2020 Campaign Tracker shares information about political spending. The agency used an in-house program to identify Facebook ad copy with the words “impeach,” “impeachment” and “impeaching,” a spokeswoman said.
By those parameters, Penzeys beat out every other ad buyer in the country, save its commander in chief. The spice company topped Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic presidential candidate; Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader; the Democratic Governors Association; and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Facebook’s publicly available data shows that from Oct. 2 to 8, Penzeys was the seventh-biggest spender on ads about “social issues, elections or politics” — a broader category than just impeachment — and the only entity in the top 10 that was not a politician or a policy-oriented organization.
Penzeys spent nearly $120,000 on Facebook advertisements addressing politics during those seven days, Facebook data showed. (That’s less than Democratic presidential candidates like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Elizabeth Warren, but more than Pete Buttigieg.)
The company’s ads aren’t subtle. “This week the curtain was finally pulled back on how deeply un-American the Republican Party has become,” said one Facebook post on Oct. 3, referring to the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump. The same post encouraged readers to sign up for a cooking newsletter.
But Mr. Penzey has been politically outspoken for a while, and that’s no secret to his customers. Followers of the chain’s Facebook page regularly see long messages criticizing the latest Trump administration news, with spice-related content sprinkled in.
In May, the company advertised a spice called “Justice” — the ingredients include shallots, garlic, onion and green peppercorns — while soliciting donations for the news organization Mother Jones. In July, it promoted a spice called Tsardust Memories — it has salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and marjoram — as a nod to Russian electoral interference, insisting in all caps that the issue was “NOT A NOTHING BURGER!!!!!”
In November, the company used Facebook to encourage people to vote in the midterm elections. “Don’t let history lump you in with the white hoods and robes crowd,” Mr. Penzey said in a Nov. 2 post. “History has its eyes on all of us, and history remembers.”
Facebook has been criticized for taking a hands-off approach to moderating political content — including paid ads — even when they include false information. But it has also been accused of censorship by conservative politicians, including Mr. Trump, who argue that the social network is more accommodating to liberal points of view.
Penzeys may use “season liberally” as a trademarked slogan, but its outspokenness is not just a reaction to the president.
The New York Times reported in 2006 that Mr. Penzey had started a food magazine that touched on prison reform, immigration policy and international adoption. He lost customers after his first issue featured a gay couple — two men who had triplets via a surrogate mother — long before gay marriage was legal in Wisconsin.
But the magazine also indulged in wordplay that mirrors the tone of some of Mr. Penzey’s Facebook posts today. “We’re not afraid to be a little goofy,” he said at the time. “Then again, we aren’t afraid to be a little serious.”