Those new to opposition research sometimes believe they must operate in complete secrecy. They lock themselves in a room, search the Internet for hours, and send letters for copies of public records. Gone are the days when opposition research was viewed as dirty tricks. Today opposition research should be an integral part of all campaigns.
Researchers should not let the fear of someone finding out they are doing opposition research keep them from asking questions and interacting with record caretakers. It is hard to acquire information and documents in a vacuum. Few if any of the people you contact to get public records care about why you want them or for whom you work. On the rare occasions I have been asked if I was doing opposition research I said yes. The person always assumed I was working for the opponent of the subject of our inquiry.
A look at most County Court web pages will tell visitors how to order copies of court records, but a call to the court clerk may offer more options to get the correct documents quickly. Recently I called the clerk’s office to learn that besides making a request for copies by letter the they would take a credit card over the phone and e-mail me copies as a PDF. I received the case files I needed a few hours later. As more records are digitized sending copies electronically is less work for clerks.
Ask record keepers questions to help you understand exactly what records you are getting and when you will get them. Assume nothing. Are the documents available online? Are they available in PDF or a native format like Word or Excel? Are the copies less expensive if they are plain copies and not certified by the clerk? Are you able to make a request by e-mail and have them bill you? How long will it take to complete your request? What is the address to send your written request by FedEx?
Agencies and courts are cutting back on hours and personnel to save money; this is creating a longer backlog. If an agency or court tells you there may be a delay consider hiring a local researcher familiar with the agency. Many courts have a list of local researchers on their web page. You can find researchers for most locations at the Public Record Retriever Network.