WASHINGTON — Tracked down by Arianna Huffington’s websters Wednesday, the creator of the “Big Sister” YouTube ad attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Democratic staffer who worked for an Internet firm on contract with rival Barack Obama’s campaign.
Philip de Vellis, writing on HuffPost, said he made the “Vote Different” spot “because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process. There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it — by people of all political persuasions — will follow.”
De Vellis was employed, until Wednesday, when he was unmasked, by Blue State Digital, the Washington, D.C., firm whose founders include Joe Rospars. Rospars is the Obama campaign’s new media director and oversees the extensive Obama Web operation. The Obama campaign contracts with Blue State to manage the server and provide only technical services.
Rospars is a veteran of the 2004 Howard Dean campaign and is one of the pioneers in using the Internet as a power political tool. He is on leave from Blue State Digital to work in the Obama campaign.
“The campaigns had no idea who made it — not the Obama campaign, not the Clinton campaign, nor any other campaign,” de Vellis wrote. “I made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in my apartment using my personal equipment [a Mac and some software], uploaded it to YouTube, and sent links around to blogs.”
De Vellis posted the spot using the e-mail ParkRidge47. Clinton was raised in Park Ridge and born in 1947.
De Vellis said he resigned from the firm; Thomas Gensemer, managing director of Blue State Digital said he was terminated. The Obama campaign said De Vellis did not work on their account and that the “campaign and its employees had no knowledge and had nothing to do with the creation of the ad.”
Still, the situation for Obama is sticky because of the Blue State ties to the Obama campaign and that the ad itself was a negative hit on Clinton. Obama has been arguing that his campaign will be different and producing negative ads is political business as usual.
De Vellis customized a famous 1984 spot for Apple Computers and admitted on his posting, “I recognize that this ad is not his (Obama's) style of politics.” The Clinton campaign had no comment.
De Vellis said the “specific point of the ad was that Obama represents a new kind of politics and that Sen. Clinton’s conversation is disingenuous.”
The discovery of De Vellis is an only-in-the-Web-world story in itself. Huffington, the founder of HuffPost, said she put her team to work, and within days the group of some 30 HuffPost employees figured out the identity of De Vellis, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
“I’m kind of in awe of how it happened,” Huffington said. “Once we knew who it was, I called him and said, ‘You were the creator of this ad.’ There was a long silence.” Huffington offered him a chance to blog about why he did it, and he took her up on it.
De Vellis also worked as an Internet communications director for the successful campaign last year of freshman Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. At least one Obama staffer also took a leave from his Senate staff to work in that same campaign.
Huffington said this episode shows that “people are going to be very passionate about this campaign, and they have new tools at their disposal.”
Obama campaign top strategist David Axelrod said Obama is not damaged by De Vellis “because the ad was not, obviously, made at our direction. If there was any subterfuge involved, I don’t think we would recruit someone who runs our server.” Axelrod said he did not know if Obama was informed of the developments.
The ad marked a new era in do-it-yourself citizen activism that bypasses campaigns and mainstream media.
Wrote De Vellis, “This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last. The game has changed.”