WSJ: Political Operatives Find Demand for Their Skills in Business World

‘Opposition research’ arm of GOP launches venture to help companies push back against detractors and navigate public-policy fights

American business is borrowing more and more of the bare-knuckle tactics that are a hallmark of American politics.

In a sign of how that shift has created new opportunities for political professionals, America Rising, the unofficial research arm of the Republican Party, has launched a for-profit venture aimed at helping companies, trade associations and wealthy individuals push back against detractors and navigate sensitive shareholder or public-policy fights.

As political trends seep further into the broader economy, the new company, Definers, is arming clients with the arsenal available to the most well-funded political candidates, including dossiers on their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, tracking tools to monitor what people are saying in traditional and social media, and a rapid-response operation to shape public fights.

The company’s founders are barred from discussing specific clients, but the firm is performing much of the same type of work that its political affiliate, America Rising, does for GOP candidates. This behind-the-scenes work is often aimed at driving media coverage of an individual, issue or entity.

In one instance, the Definers team exposed a potential conflict for Connecticut’s insurance commissioner, whose approval is required to seal the merger between insurance giants Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp., according to its marketing materials. In another, the research firm point out insurers’ larger-than-expected premium increases under the Affordable Care Act.

The first example generated local media coverage and an unfavorable editorial in a local newspaper, but the commissioner opted not to recuse herself. The second example sparked hearings in Congress.
“Corporate communications is shifting toward where political communications is now,” said Matt Rhoades, chairman of America Rising and the chief executive of the newly formed Definers affiliate.

The new entity started off with one client and three full-time employees. It has since grown to nearly 20 clients and a staff of 17.

Definers has done work for Fortune 100 companies, trade associations and private individuals. The firm has been engaged in a number of public-affairs fights, including proxy fights to defend company managers from activist investors.

This article was excerpted from The Wall Street Journal. Click here to read the full article online.