When longtime Democratic operative Brad Woodhouse left his job heading one super PAC to lead another, he didn’t even change desks — but he did step across an invisible legal boundary. Until recently, Woodhouse over-saw strategy for American Bridge, a super PAC dedicated to attacking Republican candidates. But on May 12, he jumped to Correct the Record, the pro—Hillary Clinton rapid-response and research group that had just spun off from American Bridge. As with all super PACs, both groups can take unlimited donations — but Correct the Record believes that it, unlike other such groups, is exempt from a prohibition against coordinating directly with political campaigns.
Brad Woodhouse is the president of Correct The Record. (Chet Susslin)How so? The key to Correct the Record’s strategy is a 2006 Federal Election Commission decision that “the vast majority of Internet communications are, and will remain, free from campaign finance regulation.” So the group focuses strictly on influencing the conversation about Clinton using free, online methods, such as tweets or blog posts, as well as what Woodhouse refers to as “earned media” — placing quotes or research with reporters — rather than on paid advertising. “We’re constantly thinking of ways to deliver messages that don’t require slick television ads,” Woodhouse, 47, tells me when I visit Correct the Record’s hip, 6th-floor offices. “Being quick and pithy and smart and snarky in the digital space is just as important as anything else.” It also allows them to slip under the firewall between independent groups and political campaigns. (Not everyone agrees with this interpretation of the regulation, however. The conservative watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, for instance, has filed a complaint arguing that Correct the Record’s activities run counter to the broader intention of campaign-finance regulations, and has called on the FEC to “immediately investigate and enforce the law.”)
It is hardly a surprise to find Woodhouse heading up a boundary-pushing, rapid-response operation. Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, he started on politics young. “Politics has been my entire family’s passion,” he says. Both his parents had the bug, and his brother, Dallas, is a Republican operative. Woodhouse graduated from the University of South Carolina and initially went to work for Marriott in Birmingham, Alabama. But in 1992, he tells me, he was watching Bill Clinton accept the Democratic presidential nomination and suddenly thought, “Screw this.” He quit his job and moved back to Raleigh, eventually landing in the office of then-Governor Jim Hunt. In 1997, he went to Washington to work for North Carolina Rep. Bob Etheridge. But it was his time as spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the early aughts that put him on the map. Democratic strategist Paul Tewes, who first hired him at the DSCC, calls him a “tree-cutter” and “probably the most aggressive Democratic press guy out there.” Woodhouse, in his Southern drawl, puts it differently: “I’m an email spammer, I guess.”
Woodhouse then joined the independent advocacy group Americans United to Protect Social Security (later: Americans United for Change), which he says has been his professional home “on and off for the last 10 years.” He also did a stint at the Democratic National Committee, eventually becoming its communications director, before being tapped by Democratic strategist David Brock in 2014 to head American Bridge. Today, running Correct the Record is actually only part of what Woodhouse does: He still works “to take the best of what the progressive movement is doing and make a national narrative around it” as head of Americans United for Change.
Correct the Record also splits its time, Woodhouse says, between the proactive (“amplifying Clinton’s positive message”) and the reactive (working to “provide rapid response” on the digital side and “expose the Republican record”). He says he’s proud of what he’s doing — he thinks the work is “fairly novel” — and of the group’s pioneering approach. “I think we’re a little bit paving the way,” he says.
— Lucia Graves