NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with Nathan Gonzales about Inside the elections about his article in Call on why political campaigns make their opposition research on opponents available to the public.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Online, with just a few clicks, you can access a world of Official Opposition research on candidates running for office across the country right now. And, says Nathan Gonzales in his analysis for CQ Roll Call, it’s no accident, and it’s nothing new. Nathan Gonzales joins me.
NATHAN GONZALES: Hello, hello, hello.
KELLY: Alright. So we know that opposition research on American politics is nothing new, but maybe it’s something that we consider to be done behind closed doors, maybe because it seems a little fishy, maybe because you don’t want your opponent to know what you know. Why, then, do both major political parties post their opposition research online where anyone can read it?
GONZALES: Well, the main reason is that because of the Campaign Finances Act, candidates on official party campaign committees cannot communicate with outside groups. And so it’s hard for a group to be on the same page when chasing an opponent if they can’t coordinate. And so, posting opposition research on websites is a way to communicate a message that you want to get out in front of voters without illegally coordinating with these outside groups. The byproduct of posting and informing your allies is that the other party can see it as well.
KELLY: I also guess that means nobody wastes money digging the same dirt twice. You already know what was dug up and can move on to the next pile.
GONZALES: Right. There are – there are cost savings involved, so you’re not duplicating resources. And if you’re the one coming forward and you find your own opposition to researching the other party, that shouldn’t surprise you either, because I hope you’ve researched your own background and that you realize what your vulnerabilities are. are and what attacks are likely to be heading your way.
KELLY: So just give me an example. I understand that Republican research on Democrats is not yet published. In the meantime, what types of information can we find right now on the Democrat site?
GONZALES: Of course. If you go to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – if you go to their website, dccc.org/races, that’s where in the last four election cycles they’ve put opposition research on Republican candidates with which they are confronted. So you’ll find, for example, former congressman David Valadao, who is running in California’s 21st district. He lost in 2018. He’s trying to win back that seat. You will find a 942-page opposition research book on Congressman Valadao.
And how it works isn’t just about the book. It is presented in such a way that an outside group, which again cannot coordinate, examines it. They can see what has been identified as the top results. They can see what votes or what parts – what evidence is in the book to support those claims. And–but it can have everything from votes that a candidate passed to business history to personal history.
KELLY: Fascinating. Agreed. Something to take care of between now and the election when we’re all going to see what kind of dirt everyone’s been digging up on everyone else. This is Nathan Gonzales, election analyst for CQ Roll Call and editor of Inside Elections.
Thanks very much.
GONZALES: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created in peak time by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.