Know Thine Enemy…And Thyself: Digital Opposition Research and Self-Research for Campaigns

Putting the pieces together

New contributor! Erik Milman is a veteran opposition researcher who has worked on over 200 races. Find him at Milman Research and Consulting.

As Democrats, we have often seen how the Republican attack machine and our own lack of effective research and response have distorted our candidates’ messages and destroyed their campaigns. We saw this happen in numerous Congressional, State House, and Senate races during the last several cycles: Democratic candidates were not adequately prepared with the necessary research and strategies, while Republicans successfully framed the debate and defined our candidates.

I’ve spoken with many candidates over the last several years who have claimed that they simply can’t afford to pay for opposition research (“oppo”) and self-research. Other candidates indicate that they have nothing to hide and know everything there is out there on them. Of course, the most common claim is that negative campaigns do not work and the campaign doesn’t have anything to worry about. All these assertions represent classic rookie mistakes that have led many strong candidates to ruin.

I am a professional Researcher who certainly wants candidates to hire me and my firm for their oppo and self-research. However, I am also a proud Democrat and want our candidates to have a fighting chance to win. Therefore, I’m eager to provide candidates with a few tips on how to do research online that will give them valuable information about themselves as well as their opponents.

Here are a few places to start:

Property Tax Records:

  • Check Your Property Information to see if you or your opponent have paid your property taxes. That information is online in most states.
  • The local county office that possesses that information will usually be called the Tax Assessors Office or Property Appraisers office. Just Google the relevant one(s) and you should find a link.
  • A few examples: LA County, Philadelphia and Dallas.

Court Records:

  • Check with your local Clerk of Court’s office to see if you or your opponent has any outstanding liens or lawsuits that have been filed.
  • Most Clerks of Courts have websites that have contact info for that information, and some even allow you to search for that information online.
  • A few examples: Miami-Dade, Indiana, North Carolina and New York.

Driving Records

  • Check with your State Department of Motor Vehicles or the equivalent agency to obtain a copy of your driving record or your opponent’s records.
  • Almost all the State Department of Motor Vehicles have websites that will give you links to that information.
  • A few examples: Florida, Michigan and Georgia.

Voter Registration

  • Check your voter registration to make sure that you are properly registered to vote. I have seen several instances where candidates are not properly registered and their opponents have challenged their standing to run. Almost every Secretary of State’s office allow you to check your registration online.
  • Here are a few sample links: California, Iowa and South Carolina.

Follow the Money

  • You need to know who is making contributions to your opponent’s campaigns to help frame the debate in the campaign.
  • The great news is that information on Congressional and State Legislative Candidates is online.
  • A few examples: Open Secrets, Political Moneyline and Follow the money.

These examples are just a start; you can find out plenty more online about your opponents. It’s usually just a few keystrokes away. For one example, I know everybody would love to now how their opponents are voting in the Legislature and in Congress. It’s easy to find that information online, but that’s a topic for another time.

If you need more tips on how to find the dirt online, email me!

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Erik Milman
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