Definers Public Affairs was an American right leaning opposition research firm based in Arlington, Virginia. It performed media monitoring services, conducted research using the Freedom of Information Act and also created strategic communication to negatively influence the public image about individuals, firms, candidates and organizations who oppose their clients. Definers shared at least nine current and former executives, as well as its office space, with America Rising, a Republican-affiliated political action committee, and NTK Network, a digital news aggregator.
Organization and operationsEdit
In 2017, Dentons formed a strategic partnership with Definers dubbed 3D Global Affairs. Among the services offered at 3D Global Affairs would be "governmental relations and lobbying support to shape the environment...campaign-style opposition research" and “communications and rapid response professionals to direct the narrative.”
Definers established an office in San Francisco to provide opposition research to Silicon Valley clients. In 2017 Definers opened an office in London called the U.K. Policy Group, headed by Andrew Goodfellow, the former head of research for the Conservative Party.
Definers often supports its clients by pitching stories to news outlets such as NTK Network and America Rising, which were sometimes picked up by larger media organisations like Breitbart and GotNews, which was owned by the alt-right activist Charles C. Johnson. According to Definers' proposal to potential clients, the goal was to "create an echo chamber effect" among these various outlets. An anonymous former employee for Definers called NTK Network its "in-house fake news shop".
Contract with Environmental Protection AgencyEdit
In December 2017, Definers Public Affairs was paid $120,000 in a no-bid contract from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for services which included searching for "resistance figures" opposing the agenda of Administrator Scott Pruitt, appointed to head the agency under President Donald Trump. During the bid Definers listed itself erroneously as a "small disadvantaged business", which was corrected after receiving the contract. Allan Blutstein a lawyer for Definers Public Affairs lodged FOI requests on low-level bureaucrats that were perceived to be hostile to Pruitt's agenda, Definers work was incorrectly listed as in the contract to perform “media monitoring” services. Definers cancelled the contract after receiving media scrutiny.
William K. Reilly, the EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush, criticized the hiring of Definers Public Affairs, saying that: "Mr. Pruitt appears not to understand that the two most valuable assets EPA has is the country’s trust and a very committed professional work force. This shows complete insensitivity, complete tone-deafness, or something worse." John O’Grady, President of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents approximately 10,000 EPA employees, was the target of a Definers FOIA request, and called the firm a threat to EPA employees. Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore argued that Definers is benefiting from politically-motivated crony capitalism.
Allegations by Shervin PishevarEdit
Contract with FacebookEdit
In October 2017, Facebook expanded its work with Definers Public Affairs, that had originally been hired to monitor press coverage of the company to address concerns primarily regarding Russian meddling, then mishandling of user data by Cambridge Analytica, hate speech on Facebook, and calls for regulation. Definers had established a Silicon Valley outpost earlier that year led by Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush. For tech firms, he argued in one interview, a goal should be to "have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor." Elliot Schrage, Facebook's Head of Communications and Policy stated in a blog post, that he asked Definers Public Affairs to open a file on Soros after the philanthropist called Facebook "a menace to society" in a speech earlier this year. A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, linked George Soros, a frequent subject of antisemitic conspiracy theories, to critics of Facebook.
Following the public outcry from the New York Times article on the activity of Definers Public Affairs, Facebook cut ties with the agency. George Soros' Open Society Foundation put a statement out that said the content was a "deliberate strategy to distract" from Facebook's own scandals and that the "methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy." Tim Miller defended the accuracy of Definers' work stating that "Definers shared a narrow document about an anti-Facebook group's funding. It was entirely factual." BuzzFeed News published some of Definers' research on Soros.
- "Facebook hired GOP consultancy that used anti-Semitic dogwhistles to smear protesters: report". Salon. 2018-11-14. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- Lipton, Eric; Friedman, Lisa (December 15, 2017). "Executive at Consultancy Hired by E.P.A. Scrutinized Agency Employees Critical of Trump". The New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- "Why Didn't Allegations Of Trump's Sexual Misconduct Come Up Sooner?". National Public Radio. October 14, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
Tim Miller is a partner at Definers Public Affairs, company that specializes in opposition research.
- Pounder, Joe (June 16, 2016). "An Opposition Researcher for the GOP Reveals His Secrets". Time. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- "Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook's Leaders Fought Through Crisis". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- "Searching for 'Resistance' E.P.A. Employees". The New York Times. December 15, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- Lipton, Eric; Friedman, Lisa; Vogel, Kenneth P. (December 17, 2017). "E.P.A. Employees Spoke Out. Then Came Scrutiny of Their Email". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
He and Matt Rhoades, his partner at Definers Public Affairs, also started America Rising. The two entities share several top executives, including Allan L. Blutstein, the lawyer who prepared the Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at the EPA employees.
- Leber, Rebecca; Kroll, Andy; Choma, Russ (December 15, 2017). "The EPA Hired a Major Republican Opposition Research Firm to Track Press Activity". Mother Jones. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- Sherman, Jake (September 6, 2017). "Former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller joining Definers Public Affairs". Politico. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- "Lobbying world". The Hill. December 5, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
Law and lobby firm Dentons has launched 3D Global Affairs as part of an alliance with strategic communications and political intelligence firm Definers Public Affairs, run by Matt Rhoades, the former campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s presidential run in 2012 and former Republican National Committee research director Joe Pounder. 3D Global Affairs offers clients legal teams, lobbying and advocacy help, digital advertising, data analytics, opposition research and political intelligence, among other services.
- "Dentons announces strategic alliance to create 3D Global Affairs" (Press release). Dentons. November 30, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- "Dentons announces strategic alliance to create 3D Global Affairs". Retrieved 2018-11-16.
- Romm, Tony (June 7, 2017). "Republican political operatives want to sell the dark arts of opposition research to tech companies". Recode. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- Cooper, Charlie (July 10, 2017). "Romney-linked lobbying firm to open London branch". Politico. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
Washington-based Definers Public Affairs will expand its operation to the U.K. later this year, and has appointed Andrew Goodfellow, a former director of research for the Conservative Party, as its vice president.
- Paavola, Christy (July 14, 2017). ""Blood, Toil, Tears And Sweat"". Definers Public Affairs. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
Recently at Definers, we opened our London affiliate, the U.K. Policy Group[...]
- "Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook's Leaders Fought Through Crisis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- Wong, Julia Carrie (2018-11-15). "Facebook reportedly discredited critics by linking them to George Soros". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- Nicas, Jack (November 21, 2018). "How Facebook's P.R. Firm Brought Political Trickery to Tech". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
- Cappetta, Michael; Collins, Ben; Kent, Jo Ling (November 18, 2018). "Facebook hired firm with 'in-house fake news shop' to combat PR crisis". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
- "DEFINERS CORP EP18H000025". Office of Management and Budget. Archived from the original on December 16, 2017.
- @ProPublica (December 19, 2017). "1. A GOP-affiliated oppo research firm won a no-bid EPA contract. 2. They gave themselves a leg up by listing themselves as a "small disadvantaged business." 3. Except they're not one—a fact they corrected...after they got the contract" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- @EricLiptonNYT (December 19, 2017). "So when Definers--the GOP-affiliated oppo research and PR firm--applied for its no-bid EPA contract to do media monitoring for the agency, it told the federal government it was a "small disadvantaged business," a standing that can help secure a contract" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- "Scott Pruitt's Dirty Politics". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
- Holden, Emily (December 19, 2017). "GOP firm ends controversial media monitoring contract with EPA". Politico.
The Republican media monitoring firm Definers Public Affairs canceled its $120,000 contract with Environmental Protection Agency after a media backlash because of the company's links to GOP opposition research firm America Rising.
- @PounderFile (December 19, 2017). "Below is my statement regarding the EPA contract..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Dennis, Brady (December 19, 2017). "EPA to end controversial contract with conservative 'media monitoring' firm". The Washington Post.
But an agency spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the EPA and the company had agreed to terminate the contract. In a separate conversation, the company's president, Joe Pounder, said the decision was a mutual one. "Definers offered EPA a better and more efficient news clipping service that would give EPA’s employees real-time news at a lower cost than what previous administrations paid for more antiquated clipping services," Pounder said in an emailed statement. "But it's become clear this will become a distraction."
- Musil, Steven (December 14, 2017). "Silicon Valley VC quits firm amid reports of sexual misconduct". CNET. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
Pishevar filed a lawsuit last month against Definers Public Affairs, accusing the public relations firm of carrying out a "malicious smear campaign." Definers Public Affairs has denied any involvement in work related to Pishevar.
- Mac, Ryan (December 6, 2017). "Silicon Valley Investor Shervin Pishevar Accused Of Spreading False Information To Cover Up Alleged Sexual Misconduct". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- Isaac, Mike; Nicas, Jack. "Facebook Cuts Ties With Definers Public Affairs Following Outcry". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- "Facebook's outgoing policy chief takes the fall for smearing George Soros". VICE News. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
- "Elliot Schrage on Definers | Facebook Newsroom". Retrieved 2018-11-22.
- "'I regret my own failure': Departing Facebook comms chief Elliot Schrage takes blame for missteps". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
- Frier, Sarah. "Facebook Morale, Hurt by Share Drop, Suffers Another Hit". Bloomberg.
- McKay, Tom. "George Soros Foundation Calls Facebook 'Vile,' 'Reprehensible' for Pushing Conspiracy Theories". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- Feinberg, Ashley (2018-11-16). "What Did 'Pod Save America' Expect?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
- Mac, Ryan; Bernstein, Joseph; Warzel, Charlie; Honan, Mat (December 1, 2018). "This Document Is Some Of The Research Facebook Commissioned On George Soros". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved January 22, 2019.