Calling BS on De Vellis - It Wasn't Him
Phil claims he made it? I say don't buy everything you read.
Those who have been around the Buckeye 'sphere for a while know Mr. De Vellis well. One of the most unscrupulous Democratic staffers to come to Ohio in quite a while, creative and talented Phil is not. Pull up a chair and hear the story of the supposed creator of "Big Sister" - the most viral internet ad of recent memory - and why I ain't buyin' that Phil made it.
The '06 Senate Primary
In 2004 Phil worked on the Kerry Campaign out of a Cuyahoga County office in a field-type position (I'm sorry I don't have exact details). In 2005 Mr. De Vellis returned to Ohio as the Internet Outreach/Spokesperson for the Brown for Senate campaign. De Vellis was in charge of a number of tasks, one of which was neutralizing and reaching out to a massive online presence that had just a few months previous been ga-ga for Paul Hackett's campaign for Congress in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District. Faced with a contentious primary, the Brown campaign sought to neutralize Hackett's online base (and they were largely successful).
In Ohio, sites sprang up like wildflower supporting Hackett's candidacy or just to follow the fun - Plunderbund, Psychobilly Democrat, or the Buckeye Senate Blog (BSB, the predecessor to this site). Following the infamous Ohio Democratic Party Christmas Party, as the debate became ever more contentious online, dirty tricks began to occur throughout the Ohio 'sphere. Now, before the "he said-she said-he did this-I did that" starts, lemme preface with the fact that a lot of stuff happened in the '05 Primary. I'm not defending anything bloggers did, nor is that the focus - I just want to get the truth out there about De Vellis.
First, anonymous accounts began astroturfing the Ohio 'sphere with disparaging remarks from users with names like "jewsforjesus", "thisblogishorseshit", and other similar tones. The astroturfing increased in its ferocity as time wore on, and the comments eventually began making loose threats against BSB's founder, Russell Hughlock's, family:
"And then you got called on it, got sued, lost your house, family, dog, cats, etc because thisblogishorseshit wins in court by a landslide!"
And the comments went further:
"I'm trying to get you shut down. Perfectly legitimate. And I'm going to."
Phill De Vellis had denied his involvement in the Ohio astroturfing scandal from the start, but his credibility eventually took a hit. The astoturfer slipped up when BSB was able to compare IP addresses from the anonymous commenters' and De Veillis' email accounts - surprise, they matched - and national sites picked up the news:
Hughlock compared the IP address on the comments to the IP address from e-mails he'd previously received from de Vellis -- and found an exact match. We contacted the Brown campaign ourselves about it, and while they were reticent to discuss accusations made by bloggers aligned with their opponent, they did take partial responsibility for the postings. De Vellis denied being the author, and pointed out the IP address listed on the comments serve the entire staff of about 30, but the campaign has acknowledged that the comments did indeed originate from their office. De Vellis said he was certain no one on Brown's Internet team had posted any of the messages, but said: "We haven't done an in-depth investigation." Rather, the Brown campaign quietly circulated a policy memo: Interns and staffers may no longer contribute to any blog save for Grow Ohio. This is a direction other campaigns will follow, lest they have to learn the same lesson.
Still, despite De Vellis' deception and lies, he remained employed in Ohio.
To pile on Phil's tribulations, PsychoBilly Democrat later uncovered emails from De Vellis to Ohio Right Wing Republican bloggers (about half way down the page) pushing attack material.
From: Philip de Vellis [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, February 07, 2006
To: (removed on request of recipient)
Subject: FYI - Hackett's Voting History from Plain Dealer
I thought you'd be interested in this clip from the Plain Dealer's new political website...
The email was just another example of Phil's willingness to play with fire.
Personally, the straw that broke the camel's back for me was when De Vellis began individually targeting Ohio bloggers in their private lives. Opposition research was performed against Hughlock and a message was pushed that he was a "conservative" to discredit his credibility because he had worked for Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. Reports were relayed that De Vellis ascertained the identity of one poster on the Buckeye Senate Blog and called her boss with the intent to get her fired (I have spoken with this commenter in person. In respect to her confidentiality, I'll let her step forward to discuss it further if she desires). The reason she stated De Vellis went after her was because of the negative content of her posts regarding Phil's candidate. Actions like these, against private citizens, were and are a real problem in politics. These actions were largely the acts not of a campaign, but rather one man, Phil De Vellis.
You don't target private folks merely expressing their opinions. But Phil did. And I have no doubt he would it again in a heartbeat if he could get away with it. The man has proven he will do anything to get ahead.
It Wasn't Him
Now, it's all fine and dandy to know what a sleaze De Vellis was in the last campaign, but why don't I think he made "Big Sister"? Looking back at the work Phil did in '06 I'm struck by the lack of ambition with De Vellis' online effort. Sherrod ran a campaign that ousted former Senator Mike DeWine, that makes him a winner - but that's not to say there were no weak links on the Brown team. After tensions came back down to Earth between the campaign and Ohio blogs, an online campaign presence was largely missed. Sure, Brown reached out to some larger blogs throughout the nation - but he didn't have anything creative, outside the box, or that downright impressive that rallied people to his cause online (aside from the fact that he was one of the competitive Dems nationwide). To put it differently, where was that spark on the online side of things for the Brown campaign that's present in this majestic piece of political outreach?
Also, where was De Vellis' "Big Sister" ad of the Brown campaign. Where's that one piece that hinted at Phil's creativity? Where is something - anything - that shows a high level of technical skill with video editing/manipulation. If you're still looking, stop. I couldn't find anything either. In fact, there's nothing, I repeat NOTHING, from Phil's work on that campaign (or any other work he's done elsewhere that I've tracked down) that even leaves one to hope that he is capable of the pure genius that is "Big Sister". I remain skeptical.
So If Not Phil, Who?
Great question - and like most conspiracy kooks I don't have an answer. All I know is that I have a hard time swallowing this; it's suspect. Phil's shown us before that, arguably, he's willing to deceive and lie to get what he wants. The man isn't afraid of risks, and he's willing to play with fire. He'll do anything to get ahead. If for some reason he thought claiming responsibility without fault, or taking the fall, for "Big Sister" would advance his professional goals I know he'd do it.
How could admitting responsibility for the ad, and subsequently being fired from his job at Blue State Digital advance his goals? Now we're talking - this is the biggest, most impressive viral political ad ever. Over 2 million people have watched it online. It's most likely had an impact on the early stages of the development of the prezzie media narrative, and it's sure to have already persuaded some folks into the camp of the Senator from Illinois. That's an impressive accomplishment. Or, along the more sinister route, maybe he's covering for someone or group. Either way, there's bound to be a reward with a large dollar value down the line for Mr. De Vellis. Hell, I made the "Big Sister" ad (snark).
Make no mistake, this story is going to be explored inside and out. Tonight I spoke with folks that told me reporters from California clear to New York are already digging on it. If there's more to it (and I sure as hell think there is), we'll hear it soon.
Until then, remember this is just my opinion. I've been wrong before, and I'll be wrong again. And like Phil would want all of us to know...