Vetting a political candidate
When vetting a candidate, it’s important to remember that you won’t be able to learn all pertinent facts about the person. Even the FBI can’t always do that with all their resources. What matters is creating a picture of the individual that enables trust. What do you know about the person? What could gaps in your knowledge indicate? What would you need in order to find more facts that let you create a more complete picture?
This outline is a starting point. For each fact, ask “what else?” What more can you learn from each fact outlined? Even simple things like family – a wife or father – might offer leads if you have the time to pursue them. Perhaps the candidate’s home is owned by the candidate’s father. Maybe questionable political contributions are made in the candidate’s wife’s name. Each fact offers a new avenue to investigate.
Take notes on your research. Always make note of when and where you found a piece of information. Facts might be facts, but, in the court of public opinion, facts still need their own credibility too. Always be sure that you can explain how you know something and that others can verify the claim if needed. Plus, it’s just helpful to know where you left off if you have to come back to your research after learning something new weeks or months later. Noting the date of information (when you accessed the item) may also help in retrieval if the source changes later.
Summary paragraph. Keep a summary paragraph at the top of each section. This helps you pick up where you left off or else be able to hand this off to another researcher. Include major highlights, gaps, and next steps for research. The biographical summary at top should be one or two paragraphs that can be given to a trusted person totally unfamiliar with the candidate explaining your research.
Claims vs facts and consistency. Always make note of specific claims a candidate makes regarding their biography. Not all claims can be independently verified. For example, if the candidate claims to be a veteran, the proper verification for that is DD Form 214 – which can only be requested by that person. What we can do, in the absence of other corroborating information, is look for consistency in the candidate’s claims. Do they always describe the claim in the same way or is there sometimes a little spin?
Interested in more? The SF-86 is the form that applicants for a security clearance use. You can see it here (PDF). That is only a starting point for a military personnel security investigation!
Google is often your first resource. These other services can provide leads in their own ways.
- PACER – federal service, requires advance registration, has fees
- Oregon Judicial Department Search
- Deschutes County Circuit Court – requires paid subscription or visiting the courthouse
- Deschutes County Clerk records search – liens, property, etc (after 1985)
- DIAL – Deschutes County property information
- City of Bend Municipal Court
- Intelius and similar third party resources can give clues, like age, relatives and other places lived, as part of their free product
- LinkedIn is always a good start (use private browsing mode!)
- Oregon Secretary of State Research a Business – Oregon’s interface isn’t the best, you may need to take different approaches to the search.
- OreStar – Political transactions database
- CCB Contractor License Search
- Pictures online: Right click a picture and choose “Save as.” Try to obtain the highest resolution version available. Sometimes that means clicking the picture to enlarge or, on Facebook, choosing “Options” then “Download.” If right-click is disabled on a website, you may need to view the source code to pull the image or else just screenshot it.
- Screenshots: Some browsers, like Firefox, have a built in screenshot tool available in the right-click menu. Fireshot is a free browser add-on that works with all major desktop browsers to enable screenshots.
- Video: Sometimes video can be saved by simply downloading the file like you would an image. In other cases, you need a browser add-on like Video DownloadHelper to obtain it.
- File names: When saving images or video of any kind, be sure to give them a descriptive title including the source and date if available so that it can be found again later.
The outline linked here is based on work I developed for a regional newspaper’s election coverage years ago.
Have tips on a particular candidate or suggestions to improve this resource? Get in touch!