Using open records in political campaigns

The Courier News in New Jersey is writing a series this week on the effect of that state creating a better open records law five years ago. Today’s installment is about the impact that 2002 law has had on opposition research in political campaigns.

As they say, the law:

…has also become a staple in political campaigns, as operatives look for records to prove allegations that an opponent held a no-show job, engaged in a shady business deal or received a favorable tax arrangement.

Political activists quoted in the article say that the most important improvement in the 2002 law was the imposition of a seven day deadline for giving documents to those who ask for them.

A recent example of the New Jersey open records law used for political opposition research is the New Jersey GOP looking for the e-mails Gov. Jon Corzine exchanged with Carla Katz, a labor leader and his former girlfriend. That request has been denied and the GOP is heading to court next month to try to move it along.

A former gubernatorial press aide is quoted in the article to the effect that the open records law wasn’t intended to make life easier for political opposition researchers. That misunderstands the role of these political operatives. In most cases, they’re looking for material that regular citizens don’t have the time or technical FOIA skills to find, but will most likely think should be made public.

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