The DUP ads were arranged by "digital advertising, web and software development" company AggregateIQ, a Canadian firm with oblique connections to Cambridge Analytica. Adverts such as seen up to 4.7 million times by Facebook users in England, Scotland and Wales, but a mere 860,000 times in Northern Ireland.
Typical slogans included "better for jobs", "better for family budgets", and "better for security". However, an advert claiming leaving the European Union would be "better for our borders" did not appear in Northern Ireland at all, perhaps wisely given the ongoing controversy about the potential 'hard border' Brexit may necessitate between Belfast and the Republic of Ireland.
The DUP did not merely exploit social media in mainland Britain — posters, garments, traditional display advertising (including a wraparound advert in a London freesheet newspaper) and more all spread across England, Scotland and Wales before and during the Brexit campaign.
Nonetheless, despite the propaganda blitz, the source of the party's apparently sizeable promotional war chest may have remained secret in perpetuity due to Northern Ireland's stringent donor secrecy laws. However, pressure from activists eventually forced the DUP to reveal the Constitutional Research Council's largesse was behind the project.
In a statement, Cook said the group "[supported] constitutional pro-Union causes" and was "delighted" to have supported the DUP's Leave campaign. Separately, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson explained the money had been given as the group believed "as did we" — Brexit would be "good for the Union and bad for those who oppose it".
Cook is a well-connected figure in Conservative circles — on top of once running for parliament on the Tory ticker, he is the former Scottish director of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, a former representative of Conservative Friends of Israel and former vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives. He also made headlines in Scotland in February 2017 after pledging to invest significant resources into a new campaign opposing Scottish independence post-Brexit.
Five Star Investment Management was registered at Cook's Glasgow address, filed no accounts with Companies House, and was dissolved in December 2014.
The clear connection raises further questions about the source of CRC's own funding, and whether certain figures helped fund pro-Leave campaigning activities. Saudi Arabia was widely tipped to be a major beneficiary from 'Brexit' prior to the vote, and since June 2016 has purchased assets in the UK, as well as major military hardware, at a significant discount due to the falling value of sterling.
As of July 30 2018, the DUP has not responded to Sputnik's requests for comment.
The ultimate source of the DUP's advertising budget is not 'dark money' scandal currently enveloping Britain's political establishment. Between April 2001 and February 2018, the Scottish Unionist Association Trust donated around $418,000 (£319,000) to the Scottish Conservatives — highly secretive, the organization has no fixed address, and is currently under investigation by the UK Electoral Commission.
Over the course of its existence, it has been connected to at least three different addresses in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Melrose in official records. Moreover, while it has no current trustees, prior trustees have included Peter Duncan, former Scottish Conservatives chairman and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and former Scottish Conservatives executive Robert Miller-Bakewell.
The organization's prior Electoral Commission entries repeatedly lists the Trust as an unincorporated association. However, Commission rules state unincorporated associations donating over US$328,000 (£25,000) in a calendar year must register with the body, which the Trust has failed to do.