A number of the major campaigns in this year's midterm elections have been dominated by frivolous stories born out of opposition research tactics, according to Politico
The business of opposition research has grown into a lucrative private industry staffed by young operatives who are keen to establish themselves by making hits on opponents. The trend has taken off since reforms to the campaign finance system have enabled outside groups to donate unlimited amounts of cash to candidates and committees.
"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," Joe Pounder, a veteran GOP researcher and co-founder of America Rising, told Politico.
A number of major Senate races have been rocked by stories stemming from opposition research.
In Montana, Democratic incumbent Sen. John Walsh withdrew
from the race after it was reported that he plagiarized his final paper for a master's degree from the United States Army War College.
In Kansas, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts' campaign
was almost derailed by a story questioning his home-state residency which had been peddled by his primary opponent, Milton Wolf.
Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley's campaign had to fend off stories about his wife being in a legal dispute with a neighbor over chickens getting into their yard. And Oregon GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby's campaign got sidetracked after revelations emerged that she was accused by her ex-boyfriend of "stalking him."
"There are momentary small-ball stories — a donor or a person who appeared in an ad who wasn't vetted — and then there are stories that get to the front page, lead the local newscast and fundamentally change the nature of the race," Pounder said. "I've seen more of the latter this cycle than ever before."
Campaigns are going to great lengths to disguise their activity, in some cases by directing payments to opposition researchers through general consultants.
Reporters, meanwhile, are reluctant to reveal that stories were fed to them by opposition researchers.
To date, spending on opposition research this year is up dramatically from the last midterm election. Nearly $17 million has been spent on opposition research-related activity during this cycle so far, more than the $14.4 million spent during the entire 2010 election cycle.
The two previous midterm elections combined had spent a total of $10.4 million, Politico reported.
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