Born in 1963 in Peoria, Illinois into a large Irish-American family, Michael Connell was a lifelong Republican and a devout Roman Catholic who went to Mass every day and wore a wristband saying what would jesus do? What Connell did was realize the potential of the Internet to shape politics. While still in his 20s, he worked as finance director for Republican Congressman Jim Leach, and as director of voter programs for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. In 1988 Connell developed a voter contact database for George H. W. Bush, thus inaugurating a long association with the Bush family: Connell worked on Jeb’s gubernatorial campaign in Florida in 1998; two years later he was the chief architect of George W. Bush’s Web site as Dubya launched his bid for the White House.
But it was while serving as tech guru to Karl Rove that Connell developed his deepest and perhaps most problematic professional relationship. Recruited in the late ’80s, Connell became Rove’s most trusted cyberlieutenant: a Web wizard who could turn portals into power and who would gain access to the very heights of American politics by the time he reached 30 years old. Connell’s two Ohio-based companies, New Media Communications and GovTech, became virtual research and development labs for the Republican Party, building and managing Web sites and e-mail accounts for both Presidents Bush and a long list of leading Republicans. GovTech also designed and managed numerous Congressional IT systems, including those for the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, putting Connell “behind the fire wall” of some of the most sensitive government Web sites from the safety of the Bush White House.
“Mike was known as the GOP’s Mister Fix-It,” says Stephen Spoonamore, an IT security expert and friend of Connell’s. “He built really intelligent tools that allowed people who wanted to win elections do a better job organizing their data.” But aside from his more legitimate business, Connell was no stranger to the darker side of American politics. He was forced to resign from Senator Coats’ campaign for his involvement in ethical violations. Connell’s was also the hand behind the Web site for the notorious Swift Boat Veterans’ for Truth smear campaign against John Kerry and GWB43.com, the secret e-mail account used by Rove and dozens of other White House staffers.