by Kelvin Nadden
Today is my last day at Restore Our Future.
After almost eight months at the Super PAC — first as an intern, then as an opposition researcher, then playing sinister music on an oboe, and finally editing the attack ads themselves — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its patented libel and defamation machines. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
In short, we’ve gotten too nice.
The interests of our donors, who want simply to destroy any Republican who thinks of challenging Mitt Romney, continue to be sidelined in the way the SuperPAC operates and thinks about making television ads. Restore Our Future is America’s largest and most important SuperPAC, and it is too integral to national politics to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of a small college outside Boston that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Restore Our Future’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and keeping faith with a purely negative message. Faceless anonymity and relentless attacks composed the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to win voters’ trust through the hard fall of 2011. It wasn’t just about destroying the reputations of Mitt Romney’s rivals; this alone will not sustain a SuperPAC for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
When the history books are written about Restore Our Future, they may reflect that the consultant who current runs it as a shell company, Carl Forti, lost hold of the SuperPAC’s culture on his watch. I truly believe that this decline in the SuperPAC’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of tearing down some of Americca’s leading Republican political figures: A former Speaker of the House, a morally upstanding former Pennsylvania senator, the longest-serving Republican governor in the nation. I have always taken a lot of pride in providing a sinister backdrop to television advertisements aimed solely and purely at ending a man’s political career, even if it means a Democrat will win the White House. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Restore Our Future.
At first we kept the questionable transactions at arm’s length. We would purchase a positive advertisement that ran in 2007 and simply re-air it as your own. But the corruption inevitably spread. Soon I would hear of colleagues gathering testimonials from former Romney co-workers and from politicians, like Tim Pawlenty, whose reputation you could easily have destroyed in a slashing attack that you were never permitted to air.
Now Forti has begun focus grouping soft-focus positive ads about Mitt Romney himself. When he asked me to accompany them on the flute, I knew it was time to leave.
This new tone has come with a loathsome and simpering respect for the Romney campaign staffers, whose salaries are a rounding error on the commissions on our ad buys. We used to dismiss them as “muppets,” who left the important work of “ripping eyeballs out” to us. But as we have allowed the illusion of independence to dissolve, they are slouching into our Virginia offices in their bad suits. They are offering obvious hints that they would like us to produce cheerful advertisements using images of Governor Romney playing happily with his grandchildren, drawn from his daughters-in-laws’ loathsome “mommy blogs.” (To pre-empt the muppets’ efforts were forced to bring down the blogs with denial-of-service attacks, and to ground Laurie Romney’s return flight from Guam.)
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from Moldova to Harvard University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national semi-finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Restore Our Future today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.