The story of Montana-born super PAC Special Operations for America continues to take intriguing turns during the 2014 midterm elections. The group spent more than $373,000 in Republican primaries nationwide alone—the most sizable portion going toward the congressional bid of Ryan Zinke, the super PAC’s founder and former chairman. Zinke and SOFA are now the subjects of two complaints with the Federal Election Commission alleging illegal coordination activity.
But perhaps the most random twist is that the super PAC has enlisted the help of prominent Republican strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, the man formerly referred to by the media as the “consigliere” and “right-hand man” to Mitt Romney. According to FEC reports, SOFA has paid Fehrnstrom $44,000 for political consulting work since last November, just weeks after Zinke stepped down as chairman and the super PAC vowed to support his campaign.
Fehrnstrom would not comment for this article, but getting a sense of his reputation as an “electoral knife-fighter” isn’t difficult. The former Boston Herald reporter first began working for Romney during his successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts. He also helped Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., win his 2010 bid to take the seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy.
By 2012, Fehrnstrom had become a fierce strategist in Romney’s campaign against President Barack Obama. In a lengthy profile that spring, GQ called Fehrnstrom Romney’s “Dark Knight” and “most trusted adviser,” writing that “if Karl Rove was Bush’s brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney’s balls.” Fehrnstrom also declined to be interviewed for that story.
Fehrnstrom currently works as a consultant with the Massachusetts-based Shawmut Group, which offers political clients a range of services including grassroots advocacy, strategic communications and new media consulting.
As November approaches, SOFA is set on bolstering Zinke’s chances against Democratic opponent John Lewis. SOFA played a big role in Montana’s Republican primary, blanketing the state with radio and television ads backing Zinke and attacking his chief opponent, Matt Rosendale. The Montana Democratic Party started to hammer the connections between SOFA and Zinke following the primary, raising questions about the behavior of both.
“Looking at Ryan Zinke’s history, he has a history of using power and influence for personal gain, and Montanans expect everyone to play by the same rules and be held accountable when they break those rules,” says party spokesman Bryan Watt. “This isn’t the first FEC complaint for Ryan Zinke.”