Waterfront Strategies is an advertising purchasing firm formed in 2006 by principals of the powerhouse Democratic political consulting firm Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, and Burns (GMMB Consulting). Waterfront typically works in conjunction with GMMB, placing media buys for political action committees (PACs), while GMMB works directly for political candidates and committees.
Since its first election cycle on record in 2012, Waterfront Strategies has become the top vendor for Democratic PACs, labor unions, and left-of-center nonprofits, spending $206,003,697 in the 2018 election cycle.  Senate Majority PAC, House Majority PAC, Women Vote!, League of Conservation Voters, NextGen Climate Action, and the government worker labor union AFSCME are among Waterfront Strategies’ top clients.
Waterfront Strategies is a for-profit corporation formed Delaware in 2006.  Its parent company is GMMB, a political consulting company founded in part by Jim Margolis, who was a top campaign consultant for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and represents high-profile Democratic politicians. 
While Waterfront acts as a separate corporate identity, it shares GMMB’s Washington, D.C. street address and at least two board members.  Waterfront’s president, Raelynn Olson, is also GMMB’s managing partner. While GMMB provides direct political consultation to Democratic political candidates, Waterfront serves as a media-buying vendor for political action committees that support those candidates. The setup is used to legally skirt campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates’ campaigns from coordinating with third-party groups like PACs.  Together, Waterfront and parent company GMMB have been the highest-paid consultant in each election cycle since 2012. 
Waterfront Strategies’ first election cycle on record was 2012, during which super PACs and other outside groups spent $1.3 billion to purchase media advertising on the PACs’ behalf. Waterfront was one of six media companies which received approximately one-third of that spending for political ads.  During that election cycle, Waterfront made $96,509,146 of payments on behalf of liberal super PACs, nonprofits, and labor unions. 
Political spending through Waterfront has steadily increased in each election cycle since 2012: 2014 spending totaled $132,621,244; 2016 expenditures were $180,822,140; and in 2018, the total spending by outside groups was $206,003,697. 
Divide and Conquer
GMMB directly promotes candidates or campaigns, while PACs supporting candidates use Waterfront to buy ads attacking the candidates’ opponents. In 2014, for instance, then-U.S. Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) hired GMMB to produce ads for his re-election bid against Republican challenger Martha McSally. At the same time, the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC paid Waterfront Strategies to create advertisments attacking McSally. 
Waterfront Strategies has been a key advertising vendor for “pop-up PACs”—super PACs that form late in an election cycle and only spend money shortly before Election Day. This allows the PACs to avoid disclosing their funders until after elections are over. Post-election campaign finance reporting revealed the Senate Majority PAC was behind popup PACs that were deployed in several U.S. Senate races in 2017 and 2018. 
Waterfront Strategies was paid $1,630,758 by a super PAC called Red and Gold to purchase ads opposing Republican candidate Martha McSally in the 2018 Arizona primary election.  Red and Gold was formed on August 1, 2018, and paid Waterfront for the attack ads days later—on August 3rd and August 10th. Red and Gold did not file its first finance report disclosing its donors until September 20, 2018, nearly a month after the Arizona Republican primary was over. 
In 2014, Waterfront Strategies received nearly all the campaign funds from Put Alaska First, a super PAC for ads supporting Sen. Mark Begich in his reelection bid against Republican opponent Dan Sullivan. Campaign finance filings revealed that the super PAC received most of its funding from the from the national Democratic group, Senate Majority PAC. 
A super PAC called Texas Forever hired Waterfront Strategies to run $1.29 million in ads attacking Republican senator Ted Cruz two weeks before he faced Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 election. 
Highway 31 was a super PAC formed November 6, 2017, primarily funded by the Democratic Senate Majority PAC for the sole purpose of defeating Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election in December 2017.  Waterfront Strategies was one of Highway 31’s primary vendors, hired to place attack ads against Moore in his race against his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.  According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Highway 31 bought $2,258,100.80 in campaign ads through Waterfront. 
Other Notable Campaigns
Waterfront Strategies was hired by the Senate Majority Fund and the National Education Association to run ads against Thom Tillis, a Republican challenging Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent in North Carolina’s 2014 U.S. Senate race. The Senate Majority Fund paid Waterfront $999,000.  The NEA directed $3.6 million to Waterfront for campaign ads in race. 
In 2016, the Senate Majority PAC spent $2.3 million with Blueprint Interactive and Waterfront Strategies for media attack ads against Nevada Republican Joe Heck. Heck was running against Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Senator Harry Reid. 
The Senate Majority PAC was Waterfront’s top client in the 2018 election cycle, with $28 million in payments. $507,000 was directed toward a one-time ad buy in the 2018 special Senate election in Mississippi. The ad attacked incumbent Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who faced a challenge from Democrat Mike Espy.  The PAC also hired Waterfront to spend $591,000 for ads opposing the Republican frontrunner in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary race. Also in that race, Waterfront handled $4 million in media buys for Majority Forward, a dark-money organization that shares office space and other resources with Senate Majority PAC. 
In March 2018, the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Highway 31 for campaign finance reporting violations, specifically, for reporting debts to its vendors but no donors on its pre-election FEC report.  According to the complaint, Highway 31 began advertisement spending two days after its formation, despite raising no money. Waterfront and another firm, Bully Pulpit Interactive, extended to Highway 31 a $1,154,844 line of credit. Highway 31 repaid the vendors after it received $1.2 million from Senate Majority PAC. 
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau spent more than $15 million in fiscal 2016 for internet advertisements to promote the agency’s online tools for consumers, $12.5 million of which was spent through GMMB, Waterfront’s parent company.  Given GMMB’s partisan political clients, the CFPB’s contract with GMMB prompted an investigation by Cause of Action, a right-leaning government watchdog group. 
The top two clients for Waterfront Strategies for each election cycle have consistently been the Senate Majority PAC (SMP) and House Majority PAC, both headed by prominent Democratic insiders. The Senate Majority PAC is run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.  Other SMP leadership has included Susan McCue, the former chief of staff for former Senator and GMMB client Harry Reid; heavyweight Democratic insider and Priorities USA president Harold Ickes; and Jim Jordan, a former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  The House Majority PAC was founded by Ali Lapp, a veteran Democratic operative. 
Other progressive clients pouring significant amounts of money into campaign ads via Waterfront include Women Vote!, League of Conservation Voters, NextGen Climate Action, and AFSCME. In 2018, Waterfront Strategies handled $39 million in advertising spending for Majority Forward, nearly all of its outside spending to support Democratic candidates for state legislative races. 
Partial Client List
Texas Forever PAC
Put Alaska First
Red and Gold
Raelynn Olson is GMMB’s managing partner and is widely cited as Waterfront Strategies president.
Jim Margolis is one of the founding partners of GMMB (Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burns). Margolis was a top campaign consultant for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. He also worked for President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).