Michele Bachmann's digital agency simultaneously worked with a rival Republican presidential candidate, Buddy Roemer, as late as September. It's a rare occurrence and especially interesting considering Bachmann's social media adviser is president of the double-dipping agency.
Becki Donatelli, a well-known Republican campaigner and longtime digital media consultant to GOP candidates and groups, was named Bachmann's social media adviser in July. At the very same time, her firm, Campaign Solutions, was handling website development and consulting for Buddy Roemer, former Louisiana governor. The agency's sister company, Connell Donatelli, handled online advertising for the Roemer camp.
Recently filed Federal Election Commission reports show payments for online advertising, fundraising, and other digital consulting related payments made to Campaign Solutions and Connell Donatelli by both presidential hopefuls.
Reports show the Roemer camp has worked with the agencies since March of this year. The last payment from Buddy Roemer for President to Campaign Solutions for website development and consulting was made on September 6, according to the FEC. A payment of around $455 was made to Connell Donatelli for advertising on September 22; the firm handles digital ads.
Roemer hasn't made a dent in the polls, so he may pose little if any threat to the Bachmann campaign. However, it is extremely rare for an agency with insight into campaign strategy to work with a competing campaign. According to Donatelli, the agencies had an internal structure set up to prevent people working on the Bachmann campaign from gaining knowledge of the Roemer campaign.
"We have firewalls in our company. Once the firewalls go up, nothing can be known among the clients," she said. "I personally did not provide any strategic information. The company, with the firewall up, was continuing to provide non-strategic services [to the Roemer campaign]," she continued.
Donatelli acknowledged the rarity of the situation, which is typically avoided for fear of conflicts of interest. "It's unusual. We're not the only ones, but you have to be absolutely diligent in your firewalls," she said.
Whether the decision to work with Roemer was motivated by financial reward is debatable. Combined, the sister agencies collected around $41,000 from Buddy Roemer for President between April and September, not including payments for credit card processing fees associated with online donations.
The Roemer camp recently relaunched its website, designed by California-based firm Terra Eclipse, according to a Roemer campaign spokesperson. It appears that the Roemer campaign has severed ties with Campaign Solutions and Connell Donatelli,
The Donatelli agencies also handled digital media efforts for Bachmann during her 2010 run for re-election as U.S. Congresswoman representing Minnesota. Donatelli was not available to comment for this story. The Bachmann campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
Sources say Donatelli is a friend of Roemer. Campaign Solutions and Connell Donatelli handled John McCain's 2008 campaign, for which Roemer appeared on web videos endorsing the Arizona Senator. On election day 2008, Roemer and Donatelli's husband, then Republican National Committee Deputy Chairman Frank Donatelli, planned a series of "victory stops" in support of McCain, according to an RNC press release. Frank Donatelli now serves as chairman of GOPAC.
"We got to know Governor Roemer during the McCain campaign years, but they were always aware of our primary campaign commitment with Michele Bachmann," Donatelli said.
Update: This story was updated to include comments from Becki Donatelli.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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