2 weeks ago

In the shadows: Defining the world of opposition research and why it wins races

This is my 28th year in politics, and I have seen firsthand that with every election cycle, opposition research becomes a more valuable tool used in political campaigns.

Many people had never heard of “Oppo” or were even aware that campaigns aggressively looked for information on their opponents until the Trump Dossier complied by Fusion GPS was released. The Trump Dossier was not a credible opposition research project whether you support Trump or not, simply because in true opposition research projects, everything listed in the report must have documentation.

The two major political parties in Alabama have gotten further apart in their policies, however, during their respective party primary elections, the candidates of both parties are very closely aligned with each other. If there are eight Republican candidates vying for the same office and you read each of their policy proposals without their picture or name attached, you would find it almost impossible to distinguish between each of them. So how do candidates separate themselves from their opponents in their own party when they basically agree on many issues? They have oppo done.

Opposition research is a process of learning all you can about your political opponent by using complex research skills and tactics. This goes way beyond a basic Google search. Knowing all you can about their background, associations, their record if they have held office before, and what they have said in the past, are some of the areas covered. Once the mountain of information has been gathered over weeks and many times months of searching on site, having the experience to know what can and can’t be used, how to write it into an easy-to-read report and how to use the information effectively are the keys to success.

One area that can be difficult for a candidate and their campaign to combat successfully is to defend themselves against attacks from the opposition. To defend yourself sounds easy in theory, but when it is coming at you from many angles at once; it can bring any campaign to their knees literally overnight. However, there is a part of opposition research that effectively lowers the chances that these attacks can damage a campaign. It’s called vulnerability research.

Vulnerability research allows an opposition research consultant to find where their own candidate would be vulnerable to attacks from the opponent by doing research on them. It is not smart for a candidate to depend on their own memory regarding their history as answering a charge even slightly different than they have in the past can bring accusations of lying from the opponent. Vulnerability research shows the candidate what they said and did in the past in their public and private life, so this problem can be avoided many times. Responding to political attacks must be done swiftly and strongly within a few hours or the attack gets baked in whether it is true or not. Vulnerability research needs to be done as early as possible in the campaign. This helps to neuter attacks by bringing possible problems up many times months in advance so the campaign can write replies to all possible attacks. This allows them to be able to answer when any attack comes immediately with a clear, concise, and consistent response.

Opposition research didn’t become defined as a highly skilled practice that was routinely done until after Republican political consultant Lee Atwater of South Carolina perfected the craft in modern-day politics in 1980. Atwater’s opposition research successes took him from South Carolina all the way to the Reagan White House. However, critics would claim that Atwater put the “dirt” in politics due to his aggressive opposition research tactics. Atwater was a brilliant consultant who believed that the public had a right to know about the candidates’ backgrounds, and yes, their skeletons.

Political campaigns have general consultants, campaign managers, media consultants, social media directors, field directors, volunteer organizers, fundraiser and these are all high profile positions where they interact with the public and media outlets during the course of a long campaign to the point of being on a first-name basis. The one person on a campaign who stays in the shadows is the opposition researcher. Few campaigns will admit that they do oppo because of the negative stigma of “digging for dirt,” but all of the winning ones hire an opposition researcher.

An opposition researcher has to have a certain mindset in order to be successful. One must enjoy working alone, be extremely detail orientated, have excellent research skills, and be driven to find the truth. You have to check your ego at the door because you are never acknowledged for your work in the public arena. It is like you don’t exist. You must be able to travel as being on the road three-hundred days a year is not uncommon. This isn’t a political career where you sit at a desk and take phone calls. You also must be able to take care of yourself physically as there are times where you will come in contact with supporters or employees of the opposition who don’t like the fact that you are looking into their candidate. They will verbally try to intimidate and physically threaten you. The mentality that the opposition researcher has to have is that what you find can change the course of history because one small bit of information many times can be the difference between a candidate winning or losing.

One example I will mention was for a large statewide Alabama campaign many years ago that had two very strong candidates in their party’s primary headed for a possible runoff. Both candidates were well funded, well liked within the party structure, had very low negative polling numbers and both were extremely qualified for the job. About two months out from the voters heading to the polls, both of these candidates were polling in the low 40s and in every imaginable head-to-head match up, they basically were even. One campaign was looking for an edge and I got the call. At that time no-bid contracts were a hot topic and both candidates had held office before and were campaigning aggressively against no-bid contracts. During my work, I found that our opponent previously had taken part in no-bid contracts on the giving as well as the receiving end. That one piece of oppo showed hypocrisy on his part and our campaign released the information to the public. In a 10-day stretch after the information was released, the polling went from roughly 41%-41% to 50% to 30%. We ended up easily winning the election without a runoff due to one piece of research.

Opposition and vulnerability research projects are effective with any size campaign. The first project I ever did was for a small town mayor in north Alabama which evolved into over one hundred political races to campaigns for president of the United States. I served as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s director of Research and Rapid Response and ran the War Room on both of his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016, so there isn’t a campaign too big or small that can’t benefit from oppo.

The effect and successes of opposition and vulnerability research projects have spread from political campaigns to other areas. PACs, associations, 501c(3) groups, state governments and business organizations have opposition researchers complete projects because all of them at some point have a need for personalized research in a political or even a non-political setting.

One thing that all campaigns regardless of their size or party affiliation will agree upon is that information is empowering and is the catalyst for success.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.

11 hours ago

Are you afraid to answer the phone?

Millions of Americans fear answering their phone due to a plague of billions of robocalls. These calls have made a mockery of the national Do Not Call Registry and touch on several public policy questions.

We had seemingly ended the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls. Congress authorized the Do Not Call Registry in 2003 after more than a decade of calls disrupting the peace and quiet of our homes. Fines of $11,000 per violation largely put telemarketing companies, with hundreds of thousands of employees, out of business.

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Why have unwanted calls returned? VOIP technology (voice over internet protocol) allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to make thousands of calls. A handful of responses can make thousands of calls worthwhile when the cost is almost zero. Furthermore, technology makes robocallers mobile and elusive.

By contrast, telemarketing firms employed hundreds of people at call centers. The authorities could find and fine telemarketers. Firms had to comply with the Do Not Call registry, even if forced out of business.

Technology further frustrates the control of robocalls. Spoofing makes a call appear to be from a different number. Spoofing a local number increases the chance of someone answering, defeats caller ID, and makes identifying the calls’ source difficult.

By contrast, technology allowed the elimination of spam email. It’s easy to forget that fifteen years ago spam threatened the viability of email. Email providers connected accounts to IP addresses and eventually identified and blocked spammers. Google estimates that spam is less than 0.1 percent of Gmail users’ emails.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned almost all robocalls in 2009 (political campaigns and schools were excepted). Yet the volume of calls and complaints from the public rise every year. And the “quality” of the solicitations is lower: legitimate businesses employed telemarketers, while most robocalls seem to be scams.

Telephone companies and entrepreneurs are deploying apps and services to block robocalls. The robocallers then respond, producing a technological arms race. The technology of this arms race, however, is beyond me.

I’d rather consider some issues robocalls raise. The root of the problem is some people’s willingness to swindle others. Although we all know there are some bad people in the world, free market economists typically emphasize the costs and consequences of government regulations over the cheats and frauds who create the public’s demand for regulation. People can disagree whether a level of fraud warrants regulation, but free marketers should not dismiss the fear of swindlers.

Robocalls also highlight the enormous inefficiency of theft. Thieves typically get 25 cents on the dollar (or less) when selling stolen goods. Getting $1,000 via theft requires stealing goods worth $4,000 or more. In addition, thieves invest time and effort planning and carrying out crimes, while we invest millions in locks, safes, burglar alarms, and police departments to protect our property. America would be much richer if we did not have to protect against thieves or robocallers.

Finally, having the government declare something illegal does not necessarily solve a problem. Our politicians like to pass a law or regulation and announce, “problem solved.” Identifying and punishing robocallers is difficult; the FTC had only brought 33 cases in nearly ten years. And less than ten percent of the over $300 million in fines and relief for consumers levied against robocallers had been collected. Government has no pixie dust which magically solves hard problems.

The difficulty of enforcing a law or regulation does not necessarily imply we should not act. The Federal Communications Commission, for instance, recently approved letting phone companies block unwanted calls by default, and perhaps this will prove effective. We should weigh the costs of laws and regulations against a realistic projection of benefits and laws failing to solve problems as promised should be revised or repealed.
Still, a law that accomplishes little can have value. Cursing robocalls accomplishes little yet can be cathartic. A law that costs little might provide us satisfaction until technology solves the problem.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Culverhouse vs. UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Why did the media get the story with Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. and Alabama so wrong?

— Is the Iowa slap-fight between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden a 2020 preview?

— Now that former ALEA head Spencer Collier has settled his case with the state over his firing, is the sordid Bentley saga over?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) to discuss medical marijuana, the prison special session and the lottery.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” that calls out Joe Biden for lying about the lack of lies and scandals in the Obama administration.

VIDEO: Culverhouse/UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Sunday, June 16, 2019

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

Alabama team targets international connections at SelectUSA Investment Summit

Alabama is home to a diverse lineup of international companies, and the state’s business recruiters are looking to expand those ranks.

The economic development team is in Washington D.C. at the 2019 SelectUSA Investment Summit, which starts today and is the premier foreign direct investment (FDI) event in the U.S.

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FDI is a significant part of Alabama’s economy. Last year alone, it came from 16 different countries, for a total of $4.2 billion in investment and 7,520 new and future jobs.

Since 2013, the state has attracted $12.8 billion in FDI, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. It’s spread across a variety of sectors, including automotive, aerospace and bioscience.

“Team Alabama is looking to capitalize on a record-breaking year for FDI in the state, by continuing to build partnerships with world-class international companies looking to grow in the U.S.,” said Vince Perez, a project manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.

SHOWCASING ALABAMA

SelectUSA is led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and its annual summit regularly attracts top industry leaders and investors from around the globe. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 2,800 attendees from more than 70 international markets and 49 U.S. states and territories.

Participants of the past five summits have announced $103.6 billion in greenfield FDI in the U.S. within five years of attending, supporting more than 167,000 U.S. jobs.

“We are excited to have another opportunity to showcase Alabama’s vibrant business climate that’s been cultivated over the years through business-friendly policies,” Perez said.

“This year’s Investment Summit is very timely as we will be armed with the recently passed Incentives Modernization Act, which upgraded our already-strong incentive tool kit, making us more marketable than ever.”

The measure targets counties that have had slower economic growth. In particular, it expands the number of rural counties that qualify for investment and tax credit incentives. It also enhances incentives for technology companies.

Joining the Commerce Department at the SelectUSA Summit are PowerSouth, the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Power Co., and Spire.

Speakers at the summit will include key government and industry leaders who will discuss opportunities in a broad range of areas and industries, such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and technology.

FDI supports nearly 14 million American jobs, and it is responsible for $370 billion in U.S. goods exports. The U.S. has more FDI than any other country, topping $4 trillion.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

A ‘Story Worth Sharing’: Yellowhammer News and Serquest partner to award monthly grants to Alabama nonprofits

Christmas is the season of giving, helping others and finding magic moments among seemingly ordinary (and occasionally dreary) days. What better way to welcome this season than to share what Alabamians are doing to help others?

Yellowhammer News and Serquest are partnering to bring you, “A Story Worth Sharing,” a monthly award given to an Alabama based nonprofit actively making an impact through their mission. Each month, the winning organization will receive a $1,000 grant from Serquest and promotion across the Yellowhammer Multimedia platforms.

Yellowhammer and Serquest are looking for nonprofits that go above and beyond to change lives and make a difference in their communities.

Already have a nonprofit in mind to nominate? Great!

Get started here with contest guidelines and a link to submit your nomination:

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Nominations are now open and applicants only need to be nominated once. All non-winning nominations will automatically be eligible for selection in subsequent months. Monthly winners will be announced via a feature story that will be shared and promoted on Yellowhammer’s website, email and social media platforms.

Submit your nomination here.

Our organizations look forward to sharing these heartwarming and positive stories with you over the next few months as we highlight the good works of nonprofits throughout our state.

Serquest is an Alabama based software company founded by Hammond Cobb, IV of Montgomery. The organization sees itself as, “Digital road and bridge builders in the nonprofit sector to help people get where they want to go faster, life’s purpose can’t wait.”

Learn more about Serquest here.

15 hours ago

Alabama Power wins Electric Edison Institute awards for power restoration efforts following Hurricane Michael

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) awarded Alabama Power with the EEI “Emergency Assistance Award” and the  “Emergency Recovery Award” for its outstanding power restoration efforts after Hurricane Michael hit Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in October 2018.
The Emergency Assistance Award and Emergency Recovery Award are given to EEI member companies to recognize their efforts to assist other electric companies’ power restoration efforts, and for their own extraordinary efforts to restore power to customers after service disruptions caused by severe weather conditions or other natural events. The winners are chosen by a panel of judges following an international nomination process.

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Alabama Power received the awards during the EEI 2019 annual conference.

Alabama Power’s extraordinary efforts were instrumental to restoring service for customers across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida quickly and safely,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “We are pleased to recognize the dedicated crews from Alabama Power for their work to restore service in hazardous conditions and to assist neighboring electric companies in their times of need.”

Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to make landfall during the 2018 hurricane season, was a Category 5 hurricane with peak winds of 160 mph. The storm hit Mexico Beach, Fla., on October 10 before being downgraded to a tropical storm and traveling northeast through Georgia and several Mid-Atlantic states. Alabama Power sent more than 1,400 lineworkers and 700 trucks to help restore service to customers over the course of two and a half months.

Hurricane Michael also resulted in 89,438 service outages in Alabama Power’s territory. Due to their tireless work, Alabama Power’s crews restored power to 100 percent of customers within four days after the storm, dedicating more than 124-thousand hours to the recovery.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)