Political Secrets and The Day Job That Exposes Them
Political Opposition Research. What is it? Who does it hurt? How does it work? And who the hell does it?
Well, I can’t answer that last one for you because this interview was arranged under strict rules of anonymity. To pay homage to my favorite 1970’s political film I’m calling my source “Deep Throat“. (Yes, the Robert Redford film, not the porn.)
Me: If you had to explain to a kid on the street, what you do for a living, how would you describe it?
Deep Throat: The easy answer that people seem to like is that I dig up dirt on people. The simplest example would be: someone is running for office and they hire me to dig up dirt on their opponent, either in a primary or a general election. Or they hire me to dig up dirt on themselves to see what’s out there. That’s the coolest sounding answer. The more boring answer is that I examine public records to determine where someone’s vulnerabilities lie.
It’s really important to know that generally, opp researchers (or opposition researchers) aren’t private detectives. We aren’t following people around or digging through their trash. Nothing we do is illegal or requires a special license or anything.
Me: So you do all of your sleuthing online?
DT: I’ve hired PI’s in the past, but as time goes on, more and more records are made available online so it’s just not necessary.
Me: What exactly are you looking for?
DT: The things that go into a standard political research report (which is what I’m hired to produce) are:
- Voting records: How did someone vote on certain key issues and bills? What did they sponsor? How effective were they in office?
- Office records: What did they spend public money on? Like expensive meals, etc?
- Property records: What did they buy/sell and to whom, and for how much?
- Court records: What have they been tried and convicted of, or sued for, or who have they sued?
Me: So, how does someone get into this line of work? Couldn’t anyone just sign up for a Spokeo account and get access to these same public records? What makes your access so special?
DT: Hah, that’s the $10,000 question. Okay, so you asked two questions there. First, how does someone get into this line of work? I started by working for a campaign and sort of fell into it because of my education and it clicked.
There are only a few different actual campaign jobs, and research is where my talents lie. From there I worked for a few different firms, that sort of thing, and now this is just what I know how to do. Second question: What makes our access special? Answer: almost nothing.
I do pay for access to a few different databases that most people don’t have like Nexis, and that sort of thing, where I can easily look up records on people, or search news clips. But generally, I don’t have access to any special information that you couldn’t get.
Me: So theoretically, anyone could pay for access to the databases that you use and do your job?
DT: The trick is I know where to look, and what to look for. The hard part though is getting someone to pay you for it, which you only get from experience and credibility.
Me: So obviously you’re good at what you do, and have earned a good reputation in your line of work. Can you tell me about any “big busts” you’ve been responsible for?
DT: Well, obviously I can’t be too specific without giving anything away. I’ll tell you that 90% of the time there are no big hits. No big busts. That’s a huge misconception of oppo research- that it results in these massive things.
Me: So it’s all about cataloging all the little things that add up?
DT: Yes exactly. If you want to run against X candidate, you need to know all the things. I’ll tell you about him/her to tailor attack ads, to prepare for debates, to decide where they are weak. But, you want dirt. So, I’ve seen a few big hits.
Me: This all sounds incredibly tedious.
DT: One of the things oppo researchers commonly request on their targets are their military records. Most of these are public and anyone can request them. Not the full records, but specifics. In this one case, the researcher who requested them found that the candidate had been discovered by his CO to be masturbating on duty in his Humvee. That was obviously a hit.
I’ve seen other cases where candidates have claimed to have business experience and researchers found that they lied. Either they had no connection to the company or they worked for their parents or something.
Me: Has anyone gone to jail been the result of research you’ve done?
DT: Nope. But I’ve definitely seen my fair share of shady behavior.
“In one case where a man running for Lt. Governor, a researcher discovered he had a restraining order against him by his daughter’s roommate because he threatened to kill her.”
Me: So, back to these databases. What makes your specific set of skills so special? What exactly do you look for that other people wouldn’t think of?
DT: Most of it comes with experience. I’ve done so many of these I know what people will care about and where vulnerabilities are likely to occur. At a basic level, all oppo researchers do is get public records and then summarize them. But you have to know what records to get, and you need to know how to get the info you need out of them.
One of the easiest hits ever on a candidate is where they live. Say your candidate has two houses. One of them is in the district they want to represent and the other one is outside of it. That’s not a hit by itself.
But I know that I should look at tax assessor information for both and see if they claim a homestead tax exemption on the out of district house. If they do, they are claiming to that tax authority that’s their primary place of residence, and therefore they don’t actually live in the district. Or sometimes they claim it in both places, in which case, that’s illegal. That’s one tiny example, but I think that illustrates my point about the devil being in the details. It’s the little things that add up and equal a “hit”. You need to know what to look for, and it’s different for every candidate.
Me: In my mind, every politician has SOME dirt. It just may not be all online.
DT: That’s the rub. If it’s not public info, I’m not going to find it most of the time. That’s where leaks and shit come in.
Me: So, can you tell me about any career highlights? Any “hits” you’re especially proud of?
Me: Given your insider knowledge and access to data most people don’t have, do you have any inside information about the Trump administration that you are holding onto? Or that you can talk about?
DT: Oh, there’s a ton of stuff that didn’t really come out in the election and stuff that didn’t get much play. That’s part of the problem, and it’s a new problem.
Me: Can you talk about that?
DT: With someone like Trump, there are a million things to hit him on, but so many people don’t really care. Like, he said a bunch of stupid and salacious stuff on Howard Stern over the years, as did his son. No one cares.
He had a bunch of shady dealings in Florida including buying off politicians and trying to get a county to alter it’s flood water plans DURING flooding so his golf course would look nice for an event. Hillary’s campaign did a decent job of getting out a lot of negative oppo on Trump. But it didn’t matter in the end. Also, he’s a very different sort of candidate.
“Trump doesn’t even pretend to be moral or pure. He isn’t a virtuous man and he makes no bones about it.”
When the pussy grabbing video came out people were “shocked”, but not really. My theory is that the American public really just hates insincerity. Hillary seemed insincere don’t you think? Not that she was. I actually think she’s very sincere. But she seemed insincere and no one really felt like they trusted her. They felt like she was putting on airs and talking down to them. It was a massive perception issue. Obama is incredibly sincere. Even Republicans accept this.
“Trump is funny when it comes to sincerity. He’s very insincere, but he’s open about it. The guy said “I might lie to you” so it’s a sincere insincerity.”
Me: A lot of mean things have been said about Barron Trump (which I don’t condone). I personally have seen video footage of him playing with a baby relative, and acting normal. But I’ve also seen footage where his social cues seem to be a bit off. Do you know of any evidence that he is autistic?
DT: No evidence at all, only rumors. The theory I’ve heard is that Barron is on the spectrum, and Melania is very protective of him and doesn’t want his life disrupted.
Me: So, that’s it? Just rumors?
DT: Exactly what I just told you. Operatives talk to each other.
Me: Is there ever a time when you find something huge that would destroy a candidate, but you chose not to use it for one reason or another?
DT: Absolutely. There are times when oppo researchers find something big. People cheating on their spouses, that sort of thing, and candidates don’t use it. Sometimes because they are worried it will backfire (and it does now and then).
Me: How could that possibly backfire? Because the side you’re on is also having an affair?
DT: No, because it makes you look slimy that you dug that up, or because the target then looks sympathetic in certain circumstances.“Going negative” in a campaign actually tends to drag down both candidates, but hopefully, it drags the other guy down more. One tactic people use is to give the info to another party, like an interest group or a PAC or something, or leak it to the press “without fingerprints” so the campaign has plausible deniability.
“I’ve seen campaigns condemn hits that they dug up themselves so they don’t look bad.”
Me: So “House of Cards” is real?
DT: House of Cards is very realistic in some ways, as is The West Wing. But both are very unrealistic in others.
Me: So I don’t like to admit this because I’m only twenty minutes from Manhattan, but I actually live in New Jersey. This is where my mailing address is and where my healthcare comes from. So, can you tell me anything about the political climate in New Jersey?
DT: New Jersey is fascinating. There’s actually a massive divide in the democratic party there between the north and the south, and it’s been that way for a long time. North Jersey is basically controlled by George Norcross, the brother of congressman Donald Norcross.
Philadelphia Magazine literally had a headline in 2013 called “George Norcross: The Man Who Destroyed Democracy”.
“The guy is a massive power broker, though not an elected official. “
The South Jersey democrats are basically a separate tribe, and there’s often a lot of infighting there. If you are looking for seedy and salacious stuff, Norcross has been linked to a lot of it, but none of it is proven.
Two quick things:
- First, his former business partner and his wife died in crazy circumstances. Police claim it was a murder-suicide but their kids don’t think so.
Some people consider the plane crash shady. Anyhow, the guy basically installed his brother as a state legislator, then as a congressman, and he’s probably next in line to be a Senator.
Me: So, what advice would give to people that want to get into opposition research?
DT: Go work for a campaign. Honestly, that’s my advice for anyone who wants to work in politics ever. Start by working for a campaign and if you can’t get a job with one, volunteer. A lot of volunteers get hired if they make themselves indispensable.The pay sucks and the hours suck more, but you get to know how things work and you make connections.
Me: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
DT: Oppo research is all about truth, about facts, and about things that you can actually prove.
“We live in a post-fact era because people decided that truth is actually more boring than fiction. Trump must be thrilled.”
He’s not a fan of facts either. So a whole movement of idiots behind him that decided facts don’t matter plays right into his hands. I’ll say this: We know there’s an actual concerted effort by foreign actors to pollute the internet with “fake news”. Literally, websites appearing out of nowhere that sort of look credible that are reporting lies. If something looks at all a little crazy don’t just go repeating it on facebook like it’s a fact. Google it yourself and see who else is reporting on it. If it’s only random blogs and websites with vague names like “FreedomUnite” or something it’s probably bullshit.
If you’re a conservative, there are plenty of conservative newspapers and magazines out there that are totally credible. Don’t go to Infowars. Ever. I promise that Lizard people aren’t controlling the country. It’s just egomaniacs like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, and in my mind, that’s far more terrifying. Mostly because it’s true.
Me: So that’s it folks. Straight talk from someone on the inside. Yes, you are being manipulated by the media, just as campaigns are being manipulated by each other. If you want to join the resistance, maybe a job as a political opposition researcher is for you. Just beware which side you’re really on by what you choose to redact or reveal.