The art of digging up political dirt

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Now that we’re past labor day, the campaign season is officially here — even if Quinnocchio already has been around for many months.

The unnamed Rauner staffer, who declined to be interviewed by WBEZ and would only give his name as “Quinnocchio,” dresses up in a crude Pinocchio costume, trails Gov. Pat Quinn at public appearances, holding up anti-Quinn messages.

But what goes into digging up that political dirt to be used in emails, campaign ads and personal appearances?

WBEZ has taken a look at opposition researchers, and specifically, who is shoveling what during the campaign season — and how.

“What I do is not very sexy,” said Brett Di Resta a Democratic opposition researcher based in Washington, D.C. told WBEZ. “If you want the limelight, I would say that this career is not the one to choose.”

When you see an attack ad … and they say someone voted to raise taxes 21 times, someone has to figure out what those 21 times are, and that someone is me, Di Resta explains.

When it came to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Republican opposition researcher John Pearman said the governor was a political gold mine.

“I’ve done opposition research for 25 years,” Pearman told WBEZ. “Maybe there’s one other individual that we’ve done research on that was as rich as this one, but this was — everywhere you looked, there was something.”

Pearman said digging up dirt on Blagojevich wasn’t all that hard, especially because people were shoveling it his way — with some of it even coming from people who worked for the governor.

How do the researchers feel about their work? They sleep just fine at night.

“Sometimes I think about, if that was me on the other end, would I like that?” said Dennis Gragert, a veteran Democratic opposition researcher. “All right, that’s not for me to like, it is — it is reality. It’s not something where you say, well that shouldn’t be the case. That is the case.”


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