A top GOP ad firm’s split took a litigious turn earlier this month, when Rex Elsass, the CEO and founder of The Strategy Group for Media, filed suit against his company’s former president, Nick Everhart.
Elsass fired Everhart via email in early April, accusing his former employee of a litany of grievances ranging from stealing company computer files and “trade secrets” to erratic personal behavior.
Republican consultants across the country have devoured the public legal document, which was filed May 8. Some of the GOP’s hired hands compared the lawsuit to a campaign opposition research book.
Everhart’s attorney, James Mowery, denied the allegations and called it “a strategic move to discredit Nick.”
Elsass’ attorney, Jeffrey Lipps, stood by the complaint and said he has the forensic and email evidence to back up the allegations of corporate theft and violation of a non-compete agreement. The legal complaint also accuses Everhart of unprofessional conduct, from a rumpled appearance to lewd behavior.
“We make it clear to the court and others that will evaluate this case if it goes to a jury that they understand why you would terminate the president,” Lipps said. “Unfortunately, it has to include descriptions of some of his conduct and the nature of it that gave rise to the company having to make that decision to terminate him. It’s not gratuitous.”
The most significant legal issue is the non-compete agreement Everhart signed about two weeks before his termination. The dispute centers on how broadly the firm can interpret who should be considered a competitor to the SGM. Mowery argues for a narrower interpretation of the non-compete to allow Everhart more employment options.
The SGM makes television ads for dozens of members of Congress, producing, for example, Wisconsin Rep. Sean P. Duffy’s highly praised series of lumberjack ads. At the same time, Elsass is a highly controversial force in the business of Republican politics.
Besides Duffy, the company’s 2012 client roster included Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Pennsylvania Rep. Keith Rothfus and, most memorably, former Rep. Todd Akin’s disastrous bid for Senate in Missouri.
Privately, other GOP consultants wondered if the legal drama would soften the firm’s hold on its lengthy client list.
A competitor said there had been minimal immediate client fallout for SGM. But he and others said it is too early for those sorts of changes to occur, arguing that clients are more likely to leave the firm in the third or fourth quarter of this year — if they ever do depart.
“You would expect that anyone considering working with him again will have pause,” another Republican media consultant said of Elsass.
When CQ Roll Call tried to interview SGM clients in Congress during votes last week, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann refused to answer any campaign-related questions. Another client, North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, said she had no knowledge of the dispute.
But many of the controversial firm’s competitors plan to continue watching the legal dispute .
“It makes the whole industry look bad,” the same GOP media consultant said about the litigation.
Rising Tide Lifts New Employees
America Rising, a GOP super PAC dedicated to opposition research, announced Monday that four new operatives have joined its team: Byron Koay as vice president of congressional research, Raj Shah as vice president of the presidential and national issues research team, Geoff Embleras as vice president of special projects and Ted Kwong as vice president of strategic communications and war room.
Former New Jersey Democratic Party spokeswoman Alicia D’Alessandro is launching a new super PAC affiliated with the AFL-CIO, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
“We’re excited to launch an organization that will be fighting for New Jersey workers and their families,” D’Alessandro said in a phone call.
Rocky Mountain Hilltop
Hilltop Public Solutions has hired Lisa Kaufmann, who was previously a staffer to Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. Kaufmann will work in the firm’s newly opened Denver branch. Colorado Democratic consultant Craig Hughes leads that office. The company also recently hired Serena Woods.
Brimmeier Goes Global
Khristyn Brimmeier joined Global Strategy Group as vice president of communications.
Brimmeier, who leaves The Glover Park Group, will be based in Washington, D.C. She is a veteran of Capitol Hill, President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Kristal Quarker joined the Republican National Committee last week as the new national field director for African-American initiatives.
“Kristal will be an asset to the Committee as we work to engage new voters, build relationships in the African American community, and develop an unprecedented grassroots-focused field operation,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a release.
Quarker has both Capitol Hill and campaign experience, including with the Tennessee Republican Party.
Yes We McCann
Democracy for America has hired Kyran McCann as the new state director for the Purple to Blue Project in Virginia.
Previously, McCann worked to defeat former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., in 2012. The DFA Purple to Blue program is “a national, multi-year effort to win state House and Senate chambers across the country by making so-called ‘purple’ state legislative seats decisively Democratic,” according to a press release.
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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.