(Joe Giardiello) – Pssst, here’s what I heard…
I can’t tell you how many times, as an opposition researcher, I have heard that line. It could come from the candidate, the campaign manager, a big donor or a volunteer. They all know something no one else knows and if I just look hard enough I can find the documentation.
Guess what? It never exists. Well, almost never.
I’ve heard stories of reputed drug addictions, picking up hookers, clandestine gay affairs, domestic violence arrests…the list goes on forever.
Your first step is to decide how you are going to handle the person with this “silver bullet” information. If it is the candidate or a big donor to the campaign, you might want to approach the problem differently than if it is a volunteer.
Sometimes candidates (I know this is hard to believe) don’t really have a realistic view of the campaign. They are, obviously, very emotionally involved. Their knowledge of how to run and win a campaign is not always equal to their view of themselves as the consummate political strategist. But they are paying the bills.
Donors frequently do not have firsthand campaign experience but may feel their financial contribution buys them a seat at the decision-making table. So it is important to know to whom you are talking and their level of political acumen.
I have a five-point test as to how much effort will go into tracking down rumors:
1. Is it firsthand knowledge they have or did they hear it from someone else?
2. Is it a rumor that has been floating around the blogosphere?
3. Are there enough details that would separate it from a run-of-the-mill rumor?
4. Even if true, is there likely to be documentation to back up the claim?
5. If documentation can be found, is the information likely to be worth the countless hours trying to find it?
I was working for a legislative caucus doing research on their own candidates and the opponents they would face in the General Election. The caucus leader was in a marginal district and it was shaping up to be a tough year for Republicans. He was likely to draw a serious Democratic opponent.
After exhausting the normal research sources, there was still nothing found on the person who was the likely Democrat rival. Then the candidate said he was approached by a friend of his that told him his opponent was arrested for domestic violence. Apparently it occurred at a library. That was all we had.
County criminal records for a whole state tend not to be centrally searchable. You generally have to search each county individually. If you have previous addresses those counties are usually the best places to start. But that doesn’t mean your search should end there. In this case, the subject had lived out of state for a while. Those were the first areas that were checked. After they all came up clean, we moved to those counties surrounding the one in which he currently lived.
One after another turned up nothing. On the 20th county, working a circle around his home county, we got a hit. The subject’s name was not an uncommon one and the county database did not list a middle initial. The victim’s name, presumably his ex-wife or a child, was not listed. The county also did not have actual documents available online so they had to be picked up at the courthouse.
There are several ways to retrieve such information. The first is to go yourself, but that can be time consuming and expensive if you live out of state. The second is to find someone associated with the campaign that can go to the courthouse. But I would prefer to keep such information as closely controlled as possible.
My preferred method is to find a third party, with no political involvement, to retrieve the information. Sites like Craigslist are ideal for finding such people and there is the added bonus that they will likely be close to the court and will work cheap. This is the route I took, finding a person who was at the county building almost daily doing property record searches.
Within three hours the records were spit from my fax. Bingo. It seems our subject was the one involved and was arrested for smacking his ex around at a public library. He eventually pled the charge down to a misdemeanor.
(Joe Giardiello is a political consultant and opposition researcher based in Denver and Los Angeles)