Our book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections.
Shortly after Vance launched his campaign last summer, Thompson set up a public website where he published a trove of sensitive documents — from thousands of pages of polling data, to memos assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Vance’s opponents, to a 177-page opposition research book detailing all of the areas where Vance’s opponents might attack him. There were suggested lines for Vance to use on the campaign trail, and even guidance on how the candidate could win Trump’s endorsement.
All of it was out in the open for the world to see. But it had one intended audience: the Vance campaign.
The site — housed on the publishing platform Medium under the username @protectohiovaluesforms — allowed the super PAC to publicly convey information to the Vance campaign without breaking federal laws prohibiting coordination between big-spending outside groups and campaigns. By accessing the website, the lesser-funded Vance campaign was able to capitalize on the resources of the Thiel-funded super PAC.
While organizations from both parties have set up similar websites, the sheer amount of information on the Medium site — and the danger associated with laying so much out in public — set it apart.
“We knew we were going to have less to work with from the start, so we had to take risks and be innovative to keep our donors and supporters engaged,” said Thompson, who worked on the big-spending super PAC that bolstered former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential campaign. “That included risking having all of our research in public. But if we hadn’t taken those risks, we would never be in a position to contend for the lead and for a presidential endorsement.”
As Alex Isenstadt detailed Tuesday in a fascinating tick-tock of the Ohio race, POV set up an unadvertised-but-public Medium account, where it posted a trove of sensitive documents, polling reports, audio and video for Vance to use. Some of the files are boring, such as b-roll footage the Vance camp could include in ads. But the group also posted extensive opposition research reports — on both his primary opponents and Vance himself.
Among the documents, as Alex noted, was a lengthy study of Vance’s vulnerabilities. It is essentially a “how to” guide for attacking Vance, which anyone — including the campaign of general-election opponent Rep. TIM RYAN (D-Ohio) — could access as of early Thursday morning.
They didn’t make it easy to find. Some 1,200 words into a 1,700-word Feb. 6 post on POV’s Medium account, there’s a link suggesting it will take you to some polling. Click it, and it actually takes you to a Dropbox folder with dozens of campaign strategy documents, including PDFs of two versions of a “JD Vance vulnerability analysis.”
What’s in Vance’s oppo book?
— Questioning where he really lives: In addition to the Cincy mansion, Vance still owns a home in Washington, D.C., that’s “valued at nearly $900,000.” What’s notable about this is that up through 2018, “Vance was still claiming a homestead exemption on his D.C. home, a tax break only available for principal residences. Questions about Vance’s residency were raised when he considered running for Senate in 2018, with one unnamed Republican operative saying, ‘I don’t know what address he claims in Ohio, but he’s not living there.’”
— Raising doubts about his anti-opioid nonprofit: To the researchers, one of the most worrying bits of oppo they uncovered concerned his nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal, which he started to combat the opioid crisis. In a section headlined “Mission vs. Reality,” the researchers conclude: “Despite its stated goals, Our Ohio Renewal spent more than 95 percent of its 2017 fundraising on staff salaries and overhead, and $0 on charitable activities or grants.” They add that the group “appears to have been largely defunct since 2017.”
There’s lots more, and the amount of research is impressive, encompassing court and police records, potentially problematic articles the Yale Law Journal published when Vance was an editor, old Facebook posts about “getting wasted,” and even his time as a contributing writer to prominent anti-Trump conservative DAVID FRUM’s FrumForum (which was new to us, probably because Vance wrote under the name J.D. Hamel).