WASHINGTON — Republicans are touting a 100-page report full of lofty talk about reaching out to minority voters and projecting an air of tolerance. But three paragraphs spell out another way of doing business: Stalking Democrats.
Well funded conservative groups should seek to hire activists to track Democratic incumbents and candidates with video cameras constantly recording their every movement, utterance, and action, the report urged.
The five-member study groups report outlined in stark terms what it wants:
An allied group dedicated to research to establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats would serve as an effective vehicle for affecting the public issue debate.
Like Project Veritas, the conservative outfit thats sparked controversy as it trains what it calls citizen journalists to secretly videotape people in politics and government? Like the Democrat-friendly American Bridge, which has a sophisticated tracking operation that logged about 3,200 events during the last election cycle?
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wont get specific. The party and candidates for federal office are prohibited from coordinating with outside groups leading up to elections.
But the idea of video tracking is growing in politics, aided by the spread of handheld cameras, the availabilty of the Internet to spread gotcha videos, and the hunger of people for what appears to be raw cinema verite.
It caught fire after an Indian-American Democratic volunteer shooting video of Republican Sen. George Allen showed the senator to refer to him as macaca, which struck some as a racial slur. The video went viral, and Allen lost.
The video race was on.
Last year, a bartender recorded Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romneys remark at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are depending on government and believe that they are victims. The clip helped fuel the image Romney was an out-of-touch rich guy.
The tracking process grew more sophisticated in the last election cycle, as American Bridge was created with the sole purpose of conducting opposition research, communications and tracking of Republicans.
Democrats felt we couldnt match Republican groups dollar for dollar, explained Chris Harris, communications director for American Bridge. Our groups had to be more creative, more efficient, and work together."
American Bridge hired 20 trackers, people ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s, who knew how to handle sophisticated camera equipment. They got about 2,000 hours of footage and were instructed to only record relevant events.
They claimed success stories, including catching Romney taking a hard line on illegal immigration, saying among others things that illegal immigrants were looking for a free meal.
American Bridge raised about $17 million and spent about $15 million. Its already out tracking candidates who could be running in 2014 and 2016.
Among conservatives, Project Veritas, headed by activist James OKeefe, is also in this mix. Last fall, it taped Patrick Moran, field director for the campaign of his father, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., saying he would look into a possible voter fraud proposal. Patrick Moran resigned his position after the video surfaced.
In 2010, CNN reported that OKeefe tried to embarrass a correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating palace of pleasure and making sexually suggestive comments, emails and a planning document show. The correspondent, though, was warned in advance, foiling the plan.
OKeefe, who could not be reached for comment, told National Public Radios On the Media program the next year that his tactics are a form of guerrilla theater. Youre posing as something youre not, in order to capture candid conversations from your subject. But I wouldnt characterize it as, as lying.
So far, independent Republican political groups are not seen as having such extensive operations. The conservative Club for Growth, which is already warning mainstream Republicans they could be subject to primary challenges, does not track.
Neither the Tea Party Patriots nor Crossroads GPS, the Republican-friendly group co-founded by former George W. Bush political guru Karl Rove, responded to requests for comment.
Both parties are convinced tracking works. Republicans tell candidates in media training, Never let your guard down, said Andrea Bozek, National Republican Congressional Committee communications director.
There is a potential glitch: Sometimes the public either doesnt care, or finds the idea of video tracking distasteful.
In New Hampshire last year, Democratic congressional candidate Ann McLane Custer grabbed a camera from a Republican video tracker. That became a Republican ad charging its her behavior, making voters question her judgment.
In Iowa, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was caught on a video using dogs behavior to illustrate immigration policy.
Both won. There is a stigma that goes with doing this. Its viewed as a dirty job, said Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst at the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
On the other hand, he said, the trackers arent going away. Because its so difficult to know what matters, he said, the parties want to have as much information as possible.