Several Republican congressmen are complaining about how Democratic operatives are videotaping their homes and then uploading the raw footage to the Internet. It's a creepy little practice, to be sure, but it also provides a window on how political parties, campaigns, and Super PACs work together using the web to build attack ads in the age of Citizens United.
Though independent expenditure groups, which cover organizations from party committees to PACs, can't legally coordinate with official campaigns, the party committees' opposition research is pretty valuable to those independent groups, who might have cash to air ads but not the staff to reasearch them. To get around the rules prohibiting coordination, they've settled on a very Web 2.0 tactic: put all their research on the web, accessible to anyone with a browser and let the independent groups remix it. "Opposition research is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor," Nathan Gonzales wrote in Roll Call last month, "and it's one of the major services that the campaign committees provide to a candidate. In an effort to avoid the duplication of resources and to keep the party on message, the committees are sharing more and more of the information online."
On Monday, Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble, Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, and California candidate Ricky Gill among others complained to Politico's Alex Isenstadt that "trackers," people employed by both sides to follow candidates around with cameras and record all their public statements, had either been spotted outside their houses or had actually uploaded video of the houses to the web. Both parties do this, but Gonzales notes that the Democratic sites containing the oppo are much easier to find on the DCCC and Senate Campaign Committee websites. Republicans tend to use orphan sites unlinked to their main site, but they're still public, Gonzales says.
Here's one of Ribble's Wisconsin home. (Spoiler alert: Nothing happens.)
The Democrats cited by Isenstadt sound unapologetic. In fact, they're happy to tell you what the video is doing there. He writes, "Democratic officials said placing the videos on the DCCC's website and YouTube serve a useful purpose, most notably making the footage available to friendly outside groups for use in TV commercials," and adds that the making the video public circumvents the anti-coordination rules.
The dull footage of his house might seem like the greatest privacy violation in the wealth of information the DCCC has made public, but it's just a small piece of it. Here's the main page where you can find the 208-page "book" on Rep. Ribble. The research on Ribble is divided by issue, detailing his positions, legislative record, employment history, arrest record (there isn't one), and personal history. There's also a "clip book" that features areas where he's vulnerable with accompanying quotes from media sources. (Picture those ads where a narrator summarizes an attack on a candidate as quotes from a newspapers substantiating the claim flash on the screen. This reads like a very cacophonous, longer version of that.) It's also got a link to the YouTube channel where you can find the raw footage of his house as well as other riveting footage like him walking in a July 4 parade. (In general, you can find these House candidate pages on the DCCC site under the 2012 races tab. For the Senate, click "read more" under any state at this site and then click "see what Republican are doing in [state].)
Employees of outside groups still have to visit the sites and pour through the copious amounts research on them. But at this point, the DCCC has basically suggested an angle of attack in the pages of Politico: "They say showcasing the homes — most of which are spacious and neatly maintained — underscores what will be a key avenue of attack for the party this fall: communicating that Republicans just can't relate to economically struggling voters." Provided the unedited footage, the research, and the press clippings to back up this attack, Super PACs with money for ads don't exactly have to guess at the kind of TV spot the party might want to see made. The benefit to us is that the committees must operate in the open (or at least on the web) providing political nerds with something like a public library of dense reading and watching.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.