The growing frequency of mass shootings has done little to change the political stalemate over guns in Washington, with gun rights and gun control groups each declaring that the latest massacre — for now, the one in San Bernardino — supports their diametrically opposed arguments.
In this environment, no one can predict the future of gun policy in America. But at least one thing is certain: The team of political consultants at Purple Strategies will get paid.
The partners at Purple Strategies — a bipartisan lobbying firm and consulting agency formed in 2008 through a merger of Issue & Image, a Democratic-led company, and National Media, a Republican campaign firm — have developed business relationships on both sides of the gun control debate, working with both the National Rifle Association and Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella organization for pro-gun control advocacy groups.
Everytown did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Officials from the NRA declined to provide a comment for this article — although they did ask us for more information about Everytown’s ties to Purple Strategies.
A spokesperson for Purple Strategies denied that the firm has relationships on both sides of the gun policy debate.
“Purple does not and has not worked for the NRA. Purple contracted with Everytown for one poll,” Kristen Morgante, the chief operating officer of Purple Strategies, said in an email to The Intercept.
We had asked Morgante to describe what appeared to be a close relationship between Purple and National Media, Red Eagle Media Group, and the American Media & Advocacy Group, all of which had done work for the NRA.
“The founding partners of Issue & Image and National Media Public Affairs founded Purple, however, Purple Strategies operates independently and does not share clients or employees with any other company that you referenced,” Morgante wrote.
Notwithstanding Morgante’s claims, however, documents and business filings reviewed by The Intercept show considerable overlap between National Media and Purple Strategies when it comes to clients, staff, office space, and leadership.
Consider how this works for gun-related clients:
Everytown and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, two groups heavily funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg to enact gun restrictions, have relied on Purple Strategies’ Margie Omera and her firm, Momentum Analysis, for multiple polling services in 2014 and this year. Momentum Analysis was acquired by Purple Strategies in 2013. In a memo to Everytown, Omera identified herself as working for Purple Insights, “the in-house opinion research group at Purple Strategies.”
The NRA’s relationship with Purple and National Media is obscured through a network of affiliate companies. But documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show that the NRA regularly buys political advertising through American Media & Advocacy Group and Red Eagle Media, two firms that share an address in Alexandria, Virginia, with Purple Strategies and National Media.
Records maintained by the Alexandria Circuit Court reveal that Red Eagle Media is an “assumed or fictitious” business created and owned by National Media. Robin Roberts, a co-founding partner of Purple Strategies and the president of National Media, registered the name.
FCC documents show that NRA ad buys made by Red Eagle Media and American Media & Advocacy Group were signed by Jon Ferrell, who is listed as an employee of National Media. Business filings show that National Media’s board includes Robin Roberts and Alex Castellanos, both of whom are founding partners of Purple Strategies.
The documents also suggest that the NRA has used National Media’s affiliates as significant media buyers over the last two campaign cycles.
In her email to The Intercept, Morgante warned against confusing National Media Public Affairs and National Media Research Planning and Placement — intimating that they were entirely different companies. But the distinction between them is unclear. A 2012 biographical sketch of Purple Strategies co-founder Robin Roberts, for instance, said, “In addition to managing the 50-person staff and day-to-day business operations of parent company National Media Inc., Roberts oversees all activity of National Media Research, Planning and Placement Company, and National Media Public Affairs Company.” Another bio, from 2004, describes Roberts as the leader of both companies, with the former described as a “political and public affairs media company” and the latter as an “independent communications firm.”
Purple Strategies’ Morgante claimed that her firm moved to 815 Slaters Lane in 2011, and “once that happened, National Media moved into a separate building so we share a parking lot and a legal mailing address.” I visited the office in October, asking to speak to Morgante or any other officials at the firm. I was sent away, and Morgante has not responded to any subsequent requests for comment. The lobby of Purple Strategies’ building at 815 Slaters Lane is adorned with National Media memorabilia, including a sign celebrating George W. Bush advertising efforts.
“It’s typical Washington bullshittery for a firm to pretend that there is a ‘purple’ middle ground on our issue, but Purple is cynically speaking out of both sides of its mouth,” said Jonathan Hutson, the former chief communications officer of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “You either want to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people or you want to put them in the hands of as many people as possible, whether they’re dangerous or not.”