WASHINGTON -- News that a top adviser to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had created a Twitter account designed to mock a Democratic Senate candidate provides more than just an inadvertent window into some genuine political thinking from the leading Republican in the 2012 presidential race. It also raises questions about the aide himself.
Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney adviser who is also the top strategist for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), acknowledged on Wednesday that he had written a series of tweets under the moniker "CrazyKhazei." The tweets were designed to make Brown's opponent, Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Alan Khazei, come off as a bumbling, out of touch elite. But buried in the archives were several harsh assessments of top 2012 presidential candidates as well.
In one tweet, Fehrnstrom, writing as CrazyKhazei, pens a "memo to self: Don't hire John Weaver." Weaver is a top campaign adviser to Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor and current Republican presidential candidate. In another, Fehrnstrom refers to Texas Governor Rick Perry as "All hat, no cattle." In a third, he relays his hope that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) will win the Republican nomination -– a backhanded comment about either her unelectability or her capacity to motivate Democratic voters to mobilize against her.
This being a mock Twitter account, the tweets were perhaps intended to be humorous, rather than sincere political jabs. That said, none of the remarks would make it into an on-the-record statement from Fehrnstrom, and for good reason: they engage Romney's opponents in ways that the candidate has thus far refused to do.
For his part, Fehrnstrom brushed off the fake tweeting, telling the Boston Globe, "in politics, if you can’t stand the tweet, get out of the kitchen.” The same day, the paper published a scathing editorial in which it called Fehrnstrom's antics "dumb" and noted that his behavior was especially juvenile given the prominent position he would occupy if Romney were to become president.
Top aides to top candidates are fair game, the editorial underscored. But if Fehrnstrom's record is worth exploring, there are more important aspects of it than a fake twitter account.
Since June 2009, Fehrnstrom, along with fellow former Romney aides Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty, has operated a Boston-based strategic communications firm called Shawmut Group LLC. The firm's political clients are well known. According to federal campaign finance filings, it has been paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Republican Governors Association, Republican congressional candidates and Brown, whose surprise Senate win was the firm's crowning achievement.
But Shawmut Group also represents corporate clients, offering, according to its website, "counsel during times of crisis and support for your company's goals when they intersect with the public policy world." A Lexis-Nexis search reveals that Shawmut advised Solamere Capital, a private equity firm started by Romney's son Tagg with an extensive list of executives that includes other major Romney backers and former Walmart CEO Lee Scott.
Beyond that, however, the names of Shawmut's corporate clients are not known.
"We don’t disclose clients," Fehrnstrom wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
Nor is the firm required to. A spokesperson at the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, where the Shawmut Group filed its registration, confirmed that the group wasn't required to list client names so long as it did not lobby the state government.
The lack of disclosure may be perfectly legal, but it has raised concerns among good government types. During the 2008 campaign, top Obama aide David Axelrod faced similar questions over potential conflicts of interest stemming from the clients of his consulting firm, AKPD Message and Media. The New York Times published a tough front-page story exploring the work he had done for the energy firm Exelon Corporation –- a company that had received gentle treatment from then Sen. Barack Obama.
At the time, AKPD listed some of its corporate clients on its website (though currently, the list appears to be strictly political). Shawmut does not.
"In this kind of situation, the suspicion around who his clients are will become much more damning than him just coming clean and saying who he works for," said David Donnelly, the national campaigns director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a group that tries to limit the influence of money in politics. "If it is so important to keep it secret, then that says something on its own."