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Why Political Campaigns Are Making Their Research On Opponents Available Online


Online with just a couple of clicks, you can access a world of official opposition research on candidates running for office around the country right now. And, says Nathan Gonzales in his analysis for CQ Roll Call, this is not an accident, and it is not new. Nathan Gonzales joins me.

Hey there.

NATHAN GONZALES: Hello, hello, hello.

KELLY: All right. So we know that opposition research in American politics is not new, but it's maybe something we think of as getting done behind closed doors, maybe 'cause it feels a little shady, maybe 'cause you don't want your opponent to know what you know. Why, then, do both major political parties publish their opposition research online where everybody can read it?

GONZALES: Well, the main reason is because due to campaign finance law, the candidates in the official party campaign committees can't communicate with outside groups. And so it's difficult for a party to be on the same page when going after an opponent if they can't coordinate. And so releasing opposition research in - on websites is a way to communicate a message that you want to put out in front of the voters without illegally coordinating with these outside groups. The byproduct of publishing it and informing your allies is that the other party gets to see it as well.

KELLY: I suppose, also, it means nobody wastes money digging up the same dirt twice. You already know what's been dug up, and you can move on to the next pile.

GONZALES: Correct. There is some - there is cost savings involved so you don't duplicate resources. And if you are the one who's running and you find your own opposition research from the other party, that shouldn't be a surprise to you either because hopefully, you've done the research into your own background, and you realize what your vulnerabilities are and what attacks are likely to be headed your way.

KELLY: So just give me an example. I understand the Republicans' research on Democrats is not yet posted. While we wait on that, what kinds of information can we find right now on the Democrat site?

GONZALES: Sure. If you go to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - if you go to their website,, this is where, for the past four election cycles, they have put opposition research onto the Republican candidates that they're facing. So you will find, for example, former Congressman David Valadao, who's running in California's 21st District. He lost in 2018. He's trying to regain that seat. You'll find a 942-page opposition research book on Congressman Valadao.

And how it works is it's not just about the book. It's laid out in a way that an outside group that, again, can't coordinate will look at it. They can see what have been identified as the key findings. They can see what votes or what parts - what evidence is within the book to back up those claims. And - but it can have everything from votes that a candidate has passed to business background to their personal background.

KELLY: Fascinating. All right. So much to keep us busy between now and the election as we all go look see what kind of dirt everybody's dug up on everybody else. That is Nathan Gonzales, elections analyst for CQ Roll Call and publisher of Inside Elections.

Thanks very much.

GONZALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.