As a former top congressional aide, Rodell Mollineau was a behind-the-scenes power player who helped to craft the political messages of key Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Now, the 35-year-old African-American political strategist is the president of American Bridge 21st Century, one of the two leading Super PAC’s trying to aid President Obama’s reelection. Most Super PACs, the political organizations that differ from official campaigns because they are allowed to collect unlimited donations from donors and corporations, largely spend their money running television commercials that support their candidate or bash a rival.
But Mollineau’s group specializes in research. It hires “trackers,” usually young campaign staffers, who follow Republican candidates around with video cameras, looking to catch them making controversial remarks, or ones at odds with their previous records.
It also investigates the writings, and other public records, of candidates like Mitt Romney, trying to find negative information about them that can then be sent to reporters and used in stories.
“We’re trying to help re-elect President Obama, but we’re not out there carrying the president’s message as his campaign and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) do. We put our resources behind candidates, but in a different way,” said Mollineau.
He added, “Republican candidates have a way of saying one thing to their primary base and another to independents. Part of our work is to hold them responsible for their acts, words, and deeds.”
Mollineau, a graduate of the University of Dayton, is well-qualified to spearhead that charge. The New York native spent four years as a communications aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who once described Mollineau as one of the “most talented communications professionals in Washington.”
Previously, he served on the staffs of senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), as well as former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.
Now Mollineau is at the helm of an organization that’s grown from a staff of three, to fifty. American Bridge and its non-profit companion foundation were founded by David Brock, a onetime conservative journalist turned liberal activist, who heads Media Matters for America.
American Bridge is not the only super PAC whose mission is to help return president Obama to the White House.
There’s Priorities USA Action, where senior strategist Bill Burton is also African American and backers include John Rogers, the wealthy Chicago businessman; comedian Bill Maher recently gave a $1 million donation. And 1911 is the brainchild of some members of Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi, both historic black fraternities.
But Mollineau’s group is unique is its focus on research.
“If they go to the Rotary Club or a Veterans home, we’re there capturing every word,” says Mollineau. “Every time they’re on TV and radio, we’re monitoring those words.”
For instance, a web video on www.americanbridgepac.org, shows former presidential candidate John McCain endorsing Romney for president. Yet the footage is juxtaposed with earlier remarks in which the Arizona senator chastises the former Massachusetts governor for flip-flopping on various political positions.
Such footage is part of American Bridge’s extensive video library and computer archives, which serve as a clearinghouse that can be accessed by other PAC’S, organizations doing “opposition” research, and more.
Mollineau acknowledges that such information may find its way into attack ads but notes that “any critique must be founded in fact.”
“We have a point of view, but it should be grounded in truth instead of a couple of slick lines,” he said.
That effort takes money, of course. As of December 2011, an American Bridge spokesman said the group had raised about $6.4 million (combining its Super PAC and 501c4 arm). Donors range from Hollywood businessman Stephen Bing, to unions such as AFSCME.
Super PACs associated with Republican candidates have raised significantly more money, Mollineau acknowledges, but he says at the end of day, “we may not match them dollar for dollar, but if Democrats spend wisely and strategically we will be competitive.”
Mollineau says he would like to see more African-Americans involve themselves in fundraising and national politics in a more significant way, though he acknowledges some challenges.
“It’s hard to get into congressional politics if you don’t know somebody,” he says. “I was lucky in the way I started and being given an opportunity.”
That said, Mollineau says he makes a special effort to bring other young African-American professionals into the political process. “While there’s been advancement, there’s more work for us to do.”