- Conducts opposition research designed to help Democratic political candidates
- Assigns professional trackers to closely monitor the words and actions of selected Republican candidates running in key congressional races
Established in November 2010 by Media Matters founder David Brock, American Bridge 21st Century (AB21) belongs to a class of organizations most commonly known as Super Political Action Committees, or “Super PACs.” Describing itself as “a progressive research and communications organization,” this group conducts opposition research designed to help Democratic political candidates defeat their Republican foes. Specifically, it “researches candidates’ records to ensure [that] their rhetoric matches their voting records,” and holds them strictly “accountable” for any discrepancies.
To help achieve this goal, AB21 assigns a team of professional trackers to closely monitor the words and actions of selected Republican candidates running in key congressional races. Equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and computers, these trackers monitor what the candidates say at media-covered public events and during interviews with the press; they also personally attend campaign events and surreptitiously record what is said there. The objective is to capture, on video, those moments when conservative office-seekers make verbal gaffes, contradict their previously stated positions, or disingenuously pander in some way, and to then publicize those missteps via mainstream and social media, grassroots activism, and the AB21 website.
AB21 generally does not produce its own political ads or purchase advertising time from media outlets. Instead, it provides the pertinent facts and video footage to other Democratic groups that do engage in advertising—most notably, Priorities USA Action, Majority PAC, and House Majority PAC. “Our existence means that they don’t have to put trackers out there and they don’t have to do research,” says AB21 communications director Chris Harris. Former Bill Clinton advisor Paul Begala, now a consultant and strategist with Priorities USA, credits AB21 for supplying the “the facts” that help him “come up with the spin” necessary for effective political messaging. “I rely on [AB21] every day,” says Begala. “The duplication of effort that would be required if Bridge did not exist would be massive and expensive.”
In addition to feeding information to pro-Democrat progressive organizations, AB21 also disseminates its material to news reporters across the U.S.
As of April 2011, AB21 had only five full-time staffers; today it employs more than 50 people, including nearly two dozen trackers who follow candidates around and file nightly reports to a team of researchers based in AB21’s home office, or “war room,” in Washington, DC. These researchers, in turn, compile extensive dossiers—sometimes hundreds of pages long—on the various Republican candidates whom they are targeting.
By October 2012, AB21 trackers had logged more than 300,000 miles following candidates across the United States. The war-room researchers, meanwhile, had collected and archived thousands of pages of data and thousands of hours of video. All of these items are filed with time-coded reports, to make it easier for the researchers to subsequently locate potentially incriminating material to post on Twitter and YouTube, or to send to other Democratic operatives for use in attack ads.
In August 2011, AB21 videographers caught Nebraska Republican Senate candidate Jon Bruning comparing welfare recipients to raccoons that seek out easily accessible food sources. The organization quickly disseminated this film footage to Democratic groups and media outlets nationwide, resulting in 26 news stories about Bruning’s statement.
Two months later, AB21 researchers noticed that Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts had lifted, verbatim, a passage from a speech previously given by former Senator Elizabeth Dole. At least 40 news outlets subsequently produced original pieces based on AB21’s tip, including an Associated Press story that appeared in more than 140 newspapers and websites.
The most infamous Republican gaffe noticed and publicized by AB21 occurred on the morning of August 19, 2012, when one of the group’s full-time trackers watched U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri expressing his anti-abortion views on a local politics television program. In the course of his remarks, Akin stated that in instances of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies could somehow block an unwanted pregnancy from taking place. AB21 swiftly blasted a video of Akin’s statement out to the media, where it was caricatured as an expression of tolerance for certain types of rape, and Akin’s candidacy was sunk.
Just a week before the November 8, 2016 presidential election, David Brock, through his American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, secretly gave $200,000 to the prominent sexual-harassment attorney Lisa Bloom to help create a fund that would pay women who were willing to come forward and accuse Republican nominee Donald Trump of having engaged in sexual misconduct with them in prior years. Fashion entrepreneur Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime friend of Hillary Clinton, gave $500,000 to the same effort.
AB21’s president is Rodell Mollineau, a former staffer for Senator Harry Reid. The chairwoman is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the eldest child of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
AB21’s fundraising efforts have been bolstered greatly by David Brock’s network of Media Matters benefactors. Its top contributor is the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who gave the organization $1 million in 2012 and another $500,000 in 2013. Other leading donors include the AFSCME, Patricia Bauman, Stephen Bing, Peter Lewis, Rob McKay, the National Education Association, Drummond Pike, and the Service Employees International Union.
 Known officially as “Independent-Expenditure-Only Committees,” Super PACs are not permitted to coordinate directly with, or to make direct financial contributions to, specific candidates or political parties. They may, however, engage in unlimited political spending independently of specific campaigns. Unlike traditional PACs, they can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups, without any legal limit on donation size.
 Likewise affirming the effectiveness of AB21’s efforts, League of Conservation Voters press secretary Jeff Gohringer said in October 2012: “They’ve been our eyes and ears on the ground during the campaign. They’ve allowed us to be more efficient in what we do and deciding where we spend our money. They’re out there tracking candidates and doing research, and we’ve been able to spend less time on that and actually go out there and put money in ads.”