In an election in which candidates have mostly dodged the big issues facing the country, the dark art known as “oppo” seems to be filling the void. And the trend lines suggest oppo’s golden age may just be beginning.
“In all my years of doing this I’ve not seen a cycle where I’ve seen this many seemingly oppo-driven hits shape so many big races,” said Joe Pounder, a veteran GOP researcher who last year co-founded America Rising, a new model of super PAC and LLC that plans to spend between $8 million to $12 million in the 2014 cycle digging up dirt on Democrats.
Some of the best oppo hits are never definitively traced back to such research, or are only revealed well after the election. That often feeds speculation among rival campaigns and media outlets about the derivation of damaging scoops. After POLITICO in May broke the news that Oregon GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby was accused by her ex-boyfriend of “stalking” him, The Oregonian revealed that the police report on which the story was based had been requested first by a Democratic Party researcher.
Reporters contacted about the stories cited in this piece either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.
Reporters and researchers have an interest in keeping the trade out of public view, since proof that a controversy started as oppo can be used to minimize it, even when the information is independently corroborated, bolstered and contextualized by diligent journalists whose credibility depends on getting it right.The article attributes the oppo boom to the rise of outside spending and the decline of mainstream journalism. That is, the oppo groups have the resources and newspapers don't. Another important cause is the development of technology:
Meanwhile, campaigns and committees — eager to avoid charges of playing dirty or of telegraphing their moves — have been known to cloak payments to opposition researchers by channeling them through general consultants or polling firms.
- Smartphones make is much easier to take video, and to do so surreptitiously. Mitt Romney and Bruce Braley made gaffes while apparently unaware that somebody was recording them.
- The shift from analog to digital makes it much easier to store and transmit video. And now we have sites such as YouTube (not even ten years old!) that allow for wide dissemination. Such things were not possible 20 years ago.
- Nexis did exist 20 years ago, but the World-Wide Web was just getting under way. There is vastly more material available.
- Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites provide for rapid dissemination and crowdsourcing.