Meet the Man Who’s Making Super PACs Extra Super

Pushing Hillary Clinton’s message — and the limits of campaign-finance law.

Brad Woodhouse is the president of Correct The Record.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
July 31, 2015, 1:02 a.m.

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

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