Elections & Voting
Behind the firewall: Bush loyalist Mike Connell controls congressional secrets as his email sites serve Karl Rove
By Bob Fitrakis
Online Journal Guest Writer

Jul 31, 2008, 00:21

In 2001, Michael L. Connell of GovTech Solutions, L.L.C., a notoriously partisan GOP operative and Bush family confidant, was selected to reorganize the Capitol Hill IT network.

Under the guise of selecting a female-owned IT company (Connell�s wife Heather is listed as the owner), former Congressman and convicted felon Bob Ney reportedly arranged for Connell to be the man behind the firewall for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Connell�s role and activities need to be investigated by putting Connell under oath and examining how arguably one of the country�s most zealously partisan IT specialists managed to land the contract and be allowed access to this electronic communication system.

Initially, Connell�s forays into partisan politics had very public ups and downs. Connell got his big break in 1987 as a staff member for former CIA Director and Vice President George H.W. Bush�s successful campaign for president. He programmed and developed an advanced delegate tracking system for the Republican National Convention in 1988. With no presidential campaign in 1990, Connell emerged in partisan politics, this time in a well-publicized scandal. On November 11, 1990, Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) fired Connell for his role in a �push polling� scheme that Coats denounced as �clearly unethical.� Next, Connell resurfaced as a congressional staffer and mouthpiece as U.S. Rep. Martin R. Hoke�s (R-OH) communication director in 1993-4.

In 1996, Connell�s back at partisan campaign IT activity. His newly formed New Media Communications began providing design makeovers and software for Republican candidates and organizations in Ohio and Illinois. Public records reflect that he specifically worked on implementing databases and web services for John Bohner�s (R-OH) Freedom Project PAC, John Kasich�s (R-OH) Pioneer PAC, and Dick Armey�s (R-TX) Majority Leaders Fund. Also during this period, he did computer work for right-wing ideologue David Horowitz�s Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the website, FrontPageMag.com.

Tom Brazatis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer described Connell as �an Internet consultant in 1998 for the winning campaigns of governors Bob Taft in Ohio and Jeb Bush in Florida.� The article stated that Connell told the Plain Dealer that he had been hired to do �special Internet projects� for George W. Bush. �Connell declined to be more specific,� noted the Plain Dealer�s 2000 article.

After Jeb Bush won the governor�s office, Connell received various Florida IT contracts from the governor�s office, Florida Department of Education and Community Affairs, and did computer work for the Florida Republican Party. A few months after Bush�s 1998 Florida victory, New Media Communications merged with GOP lobbyist and operative Thomas J. Synhorst and formed DCI/New Media L.L.C. in Richfield, Ohio. Synhorst is listed as a co-founder of GovTech. Connell designed Jeb.org, JebWear.com, and GOPWear.com during that election cycle.

�I�m loyal to my friends and I�m loyal to the Bush family . . .� read a Connell quote in Inside Business magazine, November 2, 1999.

Crain�s Cleveland Business reported when Connell created GovTech Solutions in 2001 he told them he had � . . . decided to roll out a separate company for its political work because government and corporations are �two animals different enough to have it make sense.�� Connell told Crain�s that his �GovTech Solutions is the only private-sector company to gain permission from HIR [House Information Resources] to place its servers behind the firewall�

One has to wonder about the implications of the premier partisan campaign IT man, steadfastly loyal to the country�s most well known security-industrial complex and CIA family, serving as the man behind the U.S. Congress� firewall.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Connell�s company, New Media Communications, received more than $800,000 from the Bush-Cheney Re-Election Campaign between January 2003 and October 2004. During the same period, New Media Communications brought in $1.2 million in contracts from Republican congressional candidates, political parties, and the National Rifle Association, according to the Akron Beacon Journal on November 24, 2004.

SourceWatch notes that Connell developed the websites for the House Intelligence, Judiciary, Financial Services, Ways and Means, and Administration Committees. According to SourceWatch, Connell teamed up with R. Rebecca Donatelli, chair of the D.C.-based Campaign Solutions, to form Connell Donatelli, Inc. (CD, Inc.) as a specialized online advertising agency in July 2004. One of CD, Inc.�s first activities was to become the registrant, administrator and tech organizer for the anti-Kerry group Swiftboat Veterans for Truth�s website swiftboatvetsfortruth.org.

Connell also handled the IT system work for the Bush-Cheney Re-election Campaign and worked for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in designing the system that allowed the real time outsourcing of Ohio�s presidential vote count to a Chattanooga, Tennessee, server site. The blog ePluribus Media deserves great credit for breaking this key story. The Tennessee servers at the old Pioneer Bank building were a massive repository of Republican and conservative websites.

An article about Connell�s partisan IT activities in George W. Bush�s hometown newspaper, the Crawford, Texas, Lone Star Iconoclast, invokes the specter of the Watergate scandal. It notes, �There�s Ohio in 2004 when his [Connell�s] company (SmartTech) ran election results through his computers before releasing them to Ken Blackwell�s Secretary of State office.�

The Iconoclast pointed out in that December 18, 2007, article, entitled �Plumbers 2.0,� that top Bush operatives, including Karl Rove, emailed plans for dismissing eight U.S. attorneys using the accounts set up by Connell gwb43.com and georgebush.com. As ePluribus Media put it, �In the virtual worlds of computer security, networking and email, the lines separating the inner workings of the current government in Washington, D.C., and the outer world of partisan politics exist only in theory.�

The IT cyberstructures created by Connell remain in place for the 2008 election. On February 22, 2008, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Connell�s team helped develop the John McCain for President website, just as it helped create the website for the last two Bush presidential campaigns.

While the Republicans tell us to pay no attention to the man behind the congressional firewall, that he�s just another government contractor, Connell is thinking long-term. When asked by Campaign and Elections magazine in June 2004 what he wished to be doing in 10 years, he replied that his goal was to be in a �senior position� in the campaign to elect Rick Santorum president of the United States. He also cited among his political heroes, Saint Paul because he � . . . leveraged Roman citizenship to fuel the expansion of the early church� and he cited George W. Bush because he had �the courage to publicly share his faith.�

Bob Fitrakis has a Ph.D. in political science and was an election observer in the Ohio 2004 general election and Ohio�s 2008 primary. Originally published by The Free Press.

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