President of D.C. Super PAC Speaks to Spring 2013 Interns
During the third Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series (SMLS) of the spring semester, TWC welcomed back Rodell Mollineau, President of Washington, D.C.-based Super Political Action Committee, American Bridge 21st Century. It was an eye-opening speaking engagement, where he delved into different periods of his professional development, from finding a job after graduating from the University of Dayton in Ohio and spending "two previous tours of duty on Capitol Hill," to running a progressive Super PAC.
Many new graduates rarely know what they want to spend their lives doing. As a young man "with an eyebrow ring and dreadlocks," Mollineau was in the same boat. In an effort to figure out his career path, he journeyed to D.C. in 1999 after setting up informational interviews with the help of a friend's father. After speaking with his first interviewer for over an hour, Mollineau was offered a position on the spot. Little did he know that the interviewer, Pete Rouse, was a long-time political consultant who would go on to become the future interim White House Chief of Staff for President Obama. Mollineau would later spend four years as staff director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), working on long-term message development, overseeing political communications operations and working closely with members of the White House. Currently, as the President of American Bridge, he has spoken to a number of students who have come through TWC's doors, including Inauguration Seminar attendees this past January. TWC was happy to welcome him back once again for this April 8th SMLS.
For those unfamiliar with Super PACs, Mollineau explained why they were created and also expanded on his day-to-day responsibilities. Super PACs emerged after the decisions of two Supreme Court cases: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. According to Mollineau, many Super PACs want to make sure "the public knows what candidates are saying before any general election." In an effort to make sure the goals of American Bridge are realized, Mollineau leads the organization's national message campaigns. Responsibilities include digital advertising, national mailings and coordinating airtime for candidates. American Bridge also focuses on opposition research and candidate tracking. Mollineau shared that they can track the personal and professional lives of candidates, dating all the way back to their undergraduate days. From that information, polls are conducted and the findings are given to "progressive and like-minded individuals." Super PACs are interested in making sure the public knows what candidates are saying and doing before the general election, and that is why research, candidate tracking and social/digital media efforts are becoming more and more critical at these organizations.
Advice for the Future Generation of Washingtonians and Political Players
Mollineau recognizes that even five or ten years ago, "no one ever aspired to run a Super PAC." He wanted to stay in Dayton, but so much of his life was about "timing and opportunity," and he realizes now that being offered a position in D.C., after his first informational interview, set the tone for the rest of his professional life. After over a decade working inside and outside of the nation's capital, he offered a number of insightful tips to TWC spring interns.
- He is a firm believer in karma, and advocates meeting with the next "reincarnation of you: grab coffee, look over their résumé and if there's something wrong with it, let them know. Don't lie." Even as a progressive Democrat, he never felt that he was "too good to help out a Republican."
- Next he advised spring interns to "educate the masses." Mollineau spent as much time outside of D.C. as he did inside, working on campaigns in Arkansas, South Dakota, Alaska and Iowa and learned that there is a certain "way people think outside of D.C. and another way people think inside of D.C." Most people living outside of D.C. are "good hard-working people, they just don't always understand how the government works and communicates."
- He told interns to "make friends with Republicans if you're a Democrat and make friends with Democrats if you're a Republican. Commiserate with your peers, watch them grow and celebrate with them."
- And finally, Mollineau advised the interns never to let "where you are right now stunt where you could go. Don't be afraid to explore and search outside of your comfort zone."
After providing words of wisdom on creating successful relationships and careers regardless of the field each intern ends up in, Mollineau took questions from the audience.
Question and Answer
Victoria Gosnell, International Affairs intern and student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, believes that campaign financing in the U.S. is undemocratic because "no one wants to fund third parties." She asked Mollineau if he thinks "this should be reconstructed not to solely focus on bipartisanship?" Mollineau said he would "like to see that but when it comes to third parties, it would give people more choices and there is a possibility that third parties can become key players."
Kevin Ewere, Political Affairs intern and student at The College of New Jersey, feels there is too much money in politics and thinks it's undemocratic that money equals free speech. He asked for Mollieneau's thoughts regarding the possibility of "incentivizing politicians to remove money from politics. Is that something that can be done now?" Mollineau responded saying that it's crucial "to remove money from politics. That begins first with electing people who actually care about this issue. It's like taking people who say they care about the environment, but when they get to the poll, don't actually vote on any issues pertaining to the environment. Campaign refinancing needs to become the top issue at the ballot box."
Ivaylo Dimitrov, International Affairs intern and student at Suffolk University, directed his question at Super PACs. He asked Mollineau if he believed they "undermined U.S. politics because they are no longer about the American people, but rather about helping certain candidates get elected?" Mollineau surprisingly agreed and shared that there are two pieces: "Super PACs are about getting certain candidates elected and also addressing what should be done when those candidates are in office."
Super PACs are also responsible for selecting where to allocate funds they raise to certain candidates during Senate, House and presidential races. Kwame Simmons, International Affairs intern and student at the University of Central Florida, asked Mollineau what "method American Bridge uses when allocating money to different races?" Mollineau told him that there is "no one strategy. In the last election, you start by deciding who will be the most vulnerable candidates on your side and allocate resources to them first. The candidates in the middle will usually get taken care of as the race progresses."
TWC would like to thank Rodell Mollineau for taking the time to speak to our spring interns and look forward to having him speak once again to future generations of TWC interns.