Is No Labels becoming radioactive within the Democratic establishment?
Two prominent Washington, DC-based consulting firms that are run by Democrats and have done significant work in recent years for the self-professed centrist outfit will now not discuss their relationship with the group or say whether they are still on the No Labels payroll.
No Labels has increasingly come under fire from Democrats and Never-Trump Republicans for its plan to possibly run a third-party candidate in 2024. The organization, which claims to be a foe of extremism on the left and on the right, is currently spending millions of dollars to obtain ballot access in states across the country. Democratic strategists and anti-Trump Republican operatives have concluded that its effort could siphon more votes from President Joe Biden than Donald Trump, the leading candidates, respectively, in the Democratic and GOP presidential nomination contests. And they have begun to brainstorm how to thwart a potential No Labels ticket.
Meanwhile, No Labels, a nonprofit, refuses to disclose the source of its funding, though media reports have identified several major donors with GOP ties. Mother Jones recently published a list of 36 funders underwriting its 2024 efforts that tilted toward the right but that did include several Democratic contributors. No Labels’ lack of transparency regarding its funding has bolstered the speculation it is pursuing a strategy that could help Republicans.
In recent years, the group, which has supported Democratic and Republican members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, has been assisted by consulting firms operated by Democrats. Its 2021 tax return, the most recent publicly available, noted that during that year—in which No Labels raised $11.4 million—it paid Rational 360, a strategic communications firm, $946,000 for consulting work, and Winning Connections, a company specializing in grassroots mobilization, $196,00 for advocacy efforts. It’s not clear whether any of this activity was related to No Labels’ 2024 project. Both companies are led by prominent Democrats.
The CEO and managing director of Rational 360 is Patrick Dorton. According to his company biography, he was a special assistant to Bill Clinton and communications director for the White House National Economic Council. He also served in the 1990s as a press secretary for a Democratic House member and two Democratic senators, as well as a deputy press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. After his stint in politics and government, he became director of media relations at Arthur Andersen during the accounting firm’s 2002 collapse, which occurred due to its role in the Enron and Worldcom financial scandals.
Brian Kaminski, a managing director and co-founder of Rational 360, notes in his company bio that before he joined the firm he “gained communications experience on Capitol Hill in the Office of [Democratic] Senator Barbara Mikulski, in the Office of the First Lady, and at the Democratic National Committee. He also worked in the private sector for Accenture, Ltd.” Melissa Green, a managing director and senior counsel for the company, was an aide in the Clinton White House and began her career at the political consulting firm of prominent Democrats James Carville and Paul Begala. Joe Lockhart, another managing director, was a press secretary for President Clinton.
Winning Connections is run by John Jameson, who founded the firm in 1996, and, according to its website, “built it into the nation’s premier direct voter contact firm for interest groups, associations, and Democratic candidates.” It has worked for the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, dozens of Democratic gubernatorial, mayoral, Senate, and House candidates, several state Democratic parties, and an assortment of progressive groups, including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Everytown for Gun Safety. Mark Schauer, its vice president, is a former Democratic House member from Michigan. Its chief operating officer, Gloria Totten, is a former political director of the National Abortion Rights Action League (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America).
Mother Jones repeatedly contacted Rational 360 and Winning Connections to inquire about their work for No Labels and to ask whether these firms are still involved with No Labels. Neither organization responded.
A source familiar with Rational 360’s operations did note that the company provided services of some kind to No Labels last year. No Labels began its effort to acquire state ballot lines for a possible 2024 candidate at least as early as December 2021, according to its tax returns.
No Labels sells itself as a bipartisan outfit with prominent supporters who hail from both parties, including former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who switched to independent, and former Gov. Pat McGrory, a North Carolina Republican. The group was started by Nancy Jacobson, a onetime fundraiser for the Democratic Party. The politician most mentioned as a possible No Labels presidential nominee in 2024 is Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has contemplated leaving the party. Manchin has not indicated whether he would mount a White House bid on the No Labels line. So far No Labels has gotten onto the ballot in four states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon.
Ryan Clancy, the chief political strategist for No Labels, also has deep Democratic roots. His online biography notes that he was a speechwriter for Biden, during Biden’s stint as vice president, and for Gary Locke, a commerce secretary in the Obama-Biden administration. It also says he has developed “corporate narratives and executive positioning plans for Fortune 500 companies.” According to No Labels’ tax returns, Clancy’s consulting firm was paid $300,000 in 2021 and in 2020. In 2019, the company earned $253,750 from No Labels.
Clancy was also paid $130,000 in 2021 by The New Center, a foundation tied to No Labels that was also started by Jacobson. (It used to be called the No Labels Foundation.) The president of The New Center, which promotes itself as a bipartisan think tank, is Mark Penn, the onetime Democratic consultant and former Clinton political adviser who distanced himself from the Democratic Party. Penn, who is married to Jacobson, occasionally met with Trump in the White House. No Labels says that Penn is not involved with the group. But the organization has hired HarrisX to conduct polls, and Penn oversees that firm’s corporate parent. In 2021, No Labels paid HarrisX $428,000.
Mother Jones sent Clancy a list of questions regarding his work for No Labels and the group’s relationships with Rational 360 and Winning Connections. He did not respond.
Maryanne Martini, the deputy of communications for No Labels, did not respond to a request for comment.
No Labels’ preparations to mount a third-party ticket in 2024 has unnerved Democrats far more than Republicans. Dave Williams, the GOP chair in Colorado, where No Labels has secured a place on the 2024 ballot, recently said he had no worries about a No Labels candidate and suggested such a candidate would hurt the Democratic ticket more than the Republican. Both of the No Labels state co-chairs in Colorado are Republicans; one donated $4,000 to far-right GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert in her recent campaigns.
With all the sharp criticism No Labels has recently drawn from professional Democrats, it’s not surprising that firms tied to the Democratic world would not want attention for their work for No Labels. Their reticence is another reminder that though No Labels claims its intentions are honorable and that it is not pursuing a covert pro-Trump or pro-GOP agenda, it is a dark-money outfit seeking to intervene in American politics without transparency or accountability.