The Thunder Road Group (TRG) is the strategic nerve center of the Shadow Party. It coordinates strategy for America Coming Together (ACT), America Votes, and the Media Fund — the three groups most involved in Shadow Party strategic planning. TRG is a political consultancy that combines the roles of strategic planning, polling, opposition research, covert operations, and public relations. It is through TRG that the Shadow Party formulates its plans, dispatches orders to the network, and presents its public face to the world. “[The Thunder Road Group] is an operation unlike any other in politics, devising strategy, message, and public relations services for the 527s,” writes The Boston Globe.
TRG is named after a Bruce Springsteen song, “Thunder Road,” whose lyrics declare, “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win.” The organization was founded in early 2004 by Jim Jordan, an attorney with a long track record as a Democrat “spin doctor.” Among other high-profile assignments, Jordan handled press relations for the Senate committee investigating DNC fundraising in 1997 and for the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment proceedings of 1998.
Jordan served as John Kerry‘s campaign manager from December 2002 to November 2003 when he was suddenly fired along with several other staffers. Within weeks, Harold Ickes and Ellen R. Malcolm recruited Jordan to handle publicity and strategy for Ickes’ Media Fund, Malcolm’s America Coming Together, and Cecile Richards‘ America Votes. In early 2004, Jordan established his own company, The Thunder Road Group, to handle the growing volume of work pouring in from those organizations. A July 27, 2004 article in The Hill reports that Jordan had already, by that time, collected $1.7 million in consulting fees and was drawing an $85,000 salary.
Jordan acknowledges that his group engages in opposition research. Some reports indicate that Jordan’s covert operations go beyond ordinary political dirt-digging. According to the American Spectator, for example, Jordan may have helped stage-manage the media circus that disrupted and contaminated the work of the 9-11 Commission. On April 9, 2004 the American Spectator reported:
“‘We’d heard that [[Richard] Clarke](http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/personsDetail.cfm?pid=998&keyword=) had some help with writing his testimony and in prepping for the questioning,’ says a staffer for America Coming Together. ‘Some of us had seen Clarke testify on the Hill in the past, and he wasn’t very good. Then he makes this amazing performance. It made us wonder. The rumor is that he ended up getting some help from Kerry’s people, but indirectly through Thunder Road.’ The rumor was given further credence yesterday during Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the [C]ommission, when even before Rice made her opening statement, the Thunder Road Group was sending out email missives to reporters questioning her statement, providing them with a guide to her remarks and giving them a sample Q & A. At other times over the next three hours, Thunder Road would email out Rice’s remarks just made before the [C]ommission, followed by statements made by Clarke during his testimony to point out the differences.”
Richard Clarke’s testimony to the Commission later turned out to be rife with misinformation.
In charge of “opposition research” for TRG is Monica Lesmerises, a former research director for Representative Richard A. Gephardt‘s 2004 presidential campaign. In charge of media for TRG are Sarah Leonard (formerly the Iowa press secretary for the Howard Dean 2004 presidential campaign) and Mo Elleithee (formerly the New Hampshire communications director for General Wesley K. Clark’s 2004 presidential campaign). The identities of these individuals have been gleaned from chance references in the press, as TRG has no website and has published no list of its personnel.