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Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Rational 360, a high-powered Washington, DC-based strategic communications firm and digital agency, promises to use “innovative” means and a network that extends “deep into the Halls of Congress, the White House, and Fortune 500 boardrooms across the country” to advance the “mission-critical goals” of its clients, a roster of corporations, trade associations, military contractors, policy advocates, and others. The company—one of the many inside-the-Beltway firms that crafts messaging and peddles influence—promotes itself as a purely bipartisan operation, though its top leaders are mostly Democrats with White House experience earned during the Clinton and Obama years. Yet despite these Democratic roots, Rational 360 plays the field, having recently set up a company to help elect Republicans, while also creating an offshoot to assist Democratic campaigns. Moreover, it has advised No Labels, a dark-money and self-professed centrist group that is preparing to possibly run a third-party presidential candidate in 2024 in an effort that could help Donald Trump.
With these activities, Rational 360 looks as if it is trying to profit from all partisan sides—right, left, and middle.
The company was formed in 2009 when Rational PR and the Stevens and Schriefer Group, an advertising outfit, created a firm to pitch large corporate clients. The eight partners at the time included Patrick Dorton, who had been a top aide in the Clinton White House and the chief spokesman for Arthur Andersen LLP during the accounting firm’s 2002 collapse, which occurred due to its role in the Enron and Worldcom financial scandals.
Dorton is now the CEO of Rational 360, and the other top officers of the company include notable Democratic veterans. Brian Kaminski, a managing director and co-founder, 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.” 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. The firm, true to its bipartisan pitch, also includes officers and staffers with Republican pedigrees.
According to Federal Election Commission data, Rational 360 has done no work for federal candidates or political action committees, except a modest bit of consulting in 2020 for Americans for Tomorrow’s Future, a Republican super PAC, for which it was paid $5,000. But in 2021, it created an offshoot entity to provide digital media services to Democratic candidates—without identifying this group’s link to Rational 360.
The firm, Blue Perigon Digital, went live with a website that year. It boasts that it can create messages for Democratic candidates that can reach base and swing voters and “groups that Democratic candidates have struggled to reach in the past with persuasive content.” The site lists 15 officers and staffers. All of them also work at Rational 360. But their employment at Rational 360 is not mentioned in any of the bios posted on the Blue Perigon Digital site. In fact, there is no reference to Rational 360 anywhere on the website. It’s as if Blue Perigon Digital does not want to be associated with Rational 360—or vice versa.
The president of Blue Perigon is Hina Razzaq. She is also a vice president at Rational 360. On the Blue Perigon site, she identifies herself as a “Former Digital Lead in Wisconsin for Hillary Clinton.” A principal at Blue Perigon, Collin Berglund, is a managing director at Rational 360. Cassie Rudolph, the digital director for Blue Perigon, is the lead senior strategist for digital at Rational 360.
A perigon is an angle of 360 degrees.
Blue Perigon’s most lucrative work, according to FEC data, has been its consulting for Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). The firm banked $574,000 toiling for him in 2022. Its website boasts, “As a result of the comprehensive digital vote-by-mail [get out the vote] program led by Blue Perigon Digital, Donald Norcross was re-elected as Congressman for New Jersey’s 1st District with a higher number of mail-in votes than any other district in New Jersey.” He won his race with 62.3 percent—which essentially matched the 62.5 percent he drew in 2020.
During the 2022 campaign, Blue Perigon also was paid a little over $73,000 by the campaign of Joy Fox, a Rhode Island businesswoman who lost a Democratic primary for a House seat. Gabe Amo, who recently worked in the Biden White House and who is running for Congress in Rhode Island, has paid Blue Perigon for digital advertising this year.
In early 2023, another Rational 360 offshoot appeared on the web. Its name is Red Octagon Digital, and it proclaims, “We help Conservative candidates and causes win by honing the data that moves the needle, creating the content that generates votes, and reaching precisely the right audience.” All eight of its officials and staffers are Rational 360 employees or managers. As with Blue Perigon Digital, none of their bios—or any other section on the site—reference Rational 360.
Red Octagon’s managing director, Lindsey Kolb, is a managing director at Rational 360. Cassie Scher and Jim Billimoria are each a vice president at both companies. All three previously worked for Republican shops. Kolb also has been a staffer for the NRA and the Heritage Foundation. So far, the FEC has no data indicating any candidate or political action committee has retained the services of Red Octagon Digital. But it’s still early in the 2024 cycle.
“People generally think of Rational 360 as a Democratic-run firm, but here they are trying to help Republicans,” says a person familiar with Rational 360’s operations. “And with this arrangement, could they have a candidate on both sides of the same election?”
In an email exchange with Mother Jones, Dorton said that Rational 360 “is a proudly bipartisan communications, public relations and public affairs firm with a strong digital practice” and “does not engage in partisan political campaigns or ideological causes on either side of the aisle.” But he noted that its ranks include past “senior operatives” who worked for Democrats and Republicans and “who are often sought out to help specific candidates and causes.” Blue Perigon Digital and Red Octagon Digital were set up, Dorton said, as “legally separate entities from Rational 360” to allow the firm’s Democratic and Republican staff “to separately and voluntarily originate and take on passion-projects that fall outside of Rational 360’s strict bipartisan standards.”
Dorton added: “This is part of our employee retention strategy, as we don’t want our talented staff, who come from diverse political backgrounds, to leave because they can’t originate and pursue projects they are passionate about.”
Dorton insisted that the websites of these two firms contain no references to Rational 360 because the communications company encourages “our employees not to list their firm affiliation when engaging in any kind of partisan political activity.”
Asked whether Rational 360 employees are paid separately for their work for these offshoots or are granted time off from Rational 360 for their Blue Perigon or Red Octagon endeavors, Dorton replied, “This is all confidential business information that we are not comfortable sharing.” As for who owns Blue Perigon Digital and Red Octagon Digital and where the funds generated by these ventures end up, he also was mum, citing confidentiality.
According to Washington, DC corporate records, Blue Perigon Digital is based at the same address as Rational 360, and its corporate filing lists one director: Dorton. There are no publicly available DC records for Red Octagon Digital, which was incorporated in Delaware.
Dorton also maintained that “Joe Lockhart works only for Rational 360 and is not affiliated with Blue Perigon Digital, Red Octagon Digital or any partisan activities.” Yet he was listed on the website of Blue Perigon Digital as a “senior advisor” until Mother Jones recently inquired about the company.
Not only does it seem that the Rational 360 crew is working both sides of the political street through these offshoots, the company has also directly pulled in big money aiding an outfit that insists it represents the center. On No Labels’ 2021 tax return, the most recent publicly available, the group reported that during that year—in which it raised $11.4 million—it paid Rational 360 $946,000 for consulting services. According to two sources familiar with Rational 360’s operations, the firm continued to perform work for No Labels in 2022 and 2023.
No Labels, a dark-money group that does not disclose who funds it, has been obtaining ballot lines in states to possibly mount a third-party presidential candidacy next year. The name most often floated as No Labels’ possible candidate is Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has pondered leaving the Democratic Party. (Manchin, who recently headlined a No Labels event in New Hanpshire, regularly declines to say whether he would run on the No Labels line.) This project has enraged Democrats and Never-Trump Republicans, who assume a third-party effort would likely draw more votes from President Joe Biden than Donald Trump, the likely major-party nominees, and, thus, serve as a spoiler for Biden and increase Trump’s odds of regaining the White House.
Dorton declined to comment on Rational 360’s relationship with No Labels, saying that its agreements with clients “prohibit us from discussing details about our work, including the timing and scope of our engagements, with the media.” Maryanne Martini, the communications deputy for No Labels, did not reply to a request for comment.
On its website, Rational 360 asserts, “We are bipartisan thinkers who bring a diverse range of perspectives to client issues that reflect our deep experience working across industries, sectors, and communities.” But these “bipartisan thinkers” also engage in partisan operations. About one-third of Rational 360’s staff of 75 people are listed as working for either Blue Perigon or Red Octagon. Mother Jones asked Dorton, “Is it fair to say that with these two firms and its work for No Labels that Rational 360 is seeking to generate revenue by working for all political sides—the Republicans, the Democrats, and the centrists?” He answered, “No….Rational 360 is focused on bipartisan clients as a business strategy and works to help our clients make their issues heard across the full spectrum of each party.” That’s the messaging.