MONTPELIER — A Texas-based opposition-research firm hired by the Shumlin campaign in 2010 to dig up dirt on Brian Dubie is at work in Vermont again, this time to scrutinize the record of Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock.
A senior research analyst at Stanford Campaigns, which specializes in negative tactics, filed a public-records request late last week seeking information related to Brock’s single term as state auditor, in 2005 and 2006.
Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson confirmed Wednesday that his organization has hired the company to conduct background research on Shumlin’s GOP rival.
“They’re a political research firm and that’s what we’ve hired them for, and that’s about all I’d be comfortable saying at this point,” Perkinson said. “Obviously there’s not much benefit to us to revealing exactly what we’re doing with that research, especially in the midst of a political season.”
Stanford Campaigns won plaudits from Shumlin campaign officials for tailoring an attack strategy in 2010 that helped turn the tide for the Democrat.
The campaign work conducted on behalf of Shumlin for Governor is among the “case studies” featured on the group’s website, www.oppresearch.com. The site includes a testimonial from Shumlin aide Christopher Klose, who said that “as a media consultant, the thing I like best about Stanford Campaigns is when you make an attack based on their research, you know it will stick.”
Alex MacLean, Shumlin’s campaign manager in 2010, is also quoted on the firm’s website.
“The committed professionals at Stanford Campaigns were a big reason we were able to pick up a Governor’s Mansion despite a significant Republican wave that day,” reads the quote. MacLean now serves as secretary of civil and military affairs for the Shumlin administration.
The records request submitted by Stanford on June 14 seeks “a complete list of any and all contractors hired by or under the authority of the office of the State Auditor between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2006.”
Brock served a single term in the auditor’s office, and the time period in the records request overlaps almost exactly with his tenure.
The Stanford inquiry additionally requests “the names of all contractors/firms, dates of all contracts, dollar amounts of all contracts and descriptions of work performed.”
“I can’t go into it,” was the response Wednesday from Ryan Malone, the senior research analyst at Stanford who filed the request.
Malone spearheaded the firm’s work on the Shumlin campaign in 2010 as well, a contract recounted in great detail on the company’s website.
“The polls had Shumlin behind by 6 points, meaning he had to make up ground when every other Democrat in the country was just trying to hold ground,” the site says.
The site goes on to celebrate the prized nuggets yielded by its opposition research, including an old quote from Dubie in which he said, “I’m a George Bush, pro-life Republican.”
That quote, Stanford said, sparked a strategic messaging campaign that “helped peel off pro-choice votes from the Republican.”
Stanford Campaigns also takes credit for uncovering thousands of dollars in political donations to the Dubie campaign from Vermont business owners who shipped jobs to China.
“In a down economy, this was just what the voters needed to know about the Republican nominee,” the site says. “After two weeks of comparative television ads, Dubie had dropped 8 points as Shumlin established a slim lead that he held onto even as the bottom dropped out for Democrats across the country.”
According to campaign finance disclosures on file with the secretary of state, Shumlin for Governor paid Stanford Campaigns more than $12,000 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 18, 2010.
Between Oct. 14 and Oct. 23 of that year, a political action committee funded by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Action Fund ran two television advertisements shellacking Dubie for his pro-life views.
“Brian Dubie would overturn Roe vs. Wade,” one ad said. “Brian Dubie is too big a risk for Vermont.”
MacLean on Wednesday declined to comment about Stanford’s work during either the 2010 or 2012 election cycles.
Asked whether MacLean recommended the firm to the Vermont Democratic Party, Perkinson said, “I’m not going to get into that right now.”
The research firm’s founder, Jason Stanford, penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post last week titled “How Negative Political Attacks are Saving Democracy.” In it, he works to dispel “the myth that negative campaigns suppress voters.”
“The lesson that voters keep trying to teach us is clear: If you want to rock the vote, use sticks and stones,” Stanford writes. “But no matter how many times we see this cause and effect, pundits and other party poopers hold fast to the myth that negative campaigns suppress turnout.”
Stanford Campaigns serves an exclusively Democratic clientele, a point underscored on its website: “Sure, we serve Republicans. Would you like them skewered, roasted, or deep-fried?”
Perkinson said it’s too early to say how the research being conducted on Brock will manifest itself in the 2012 gubernatorial campaign. He said attack ads can have an important place in Vermont politics.
“I think there’s a big difference between pointing out deficiencies that an opponent might have ... and slinging mud,” Perkinson said. “When you get into the realm of misleading or omitting important information, I think that qualifies as negative campaigning, and I don’t think that has a place in Vermont. I do think there’s a place for pointing out flaws in an opposing candidate.”
Perkinson wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he’d encouraged Malone to go after records in the auditor’s office, or if the idea came from Stanford Campaigns. Neither Perkinson nor Malone would say whether additional Brock-related records requests had been filed elsewhere in state government.
Tom Salmon, the three-term auditor who ousted Brock from the office in 2006, said he anticipates producing the records for Malone soon.
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