Records Point to Who’s Behind the National Opposition Research Firm Targeting Montclair Schools

On Tuesday, we revealed that FOIAs had been filed targeting people involved in the Montclair Schools (including our blog) by a national opposition research firm. The name of the company the FOIAs were filed under, Public Record Strategies, is – as others have noted – clearly a “false front.”

Our initial investigation into them turned tons of requests filed by them around the country. The staffers that filed the requests all listed their employer ambiguous. Alexandra Wilcox, who filed the request, listed her job as  “Deputy Research Director at Public Record Research Firm”.

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Emily Dupuis, who filed the first record, listed her employment as “Research Analyst.”

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The same is true of a number of others that show up in records making requests on behalf of whomever Public Record Strategies actually is, obscuring the source of the requests. But it’s not true for all of them.

USDA records show that on 2/27/14, Dallas Cole with Public Record Strategies filed a request for records about Pacheco Dairy, which was fulfilled that March.

While most folks working there have relatively little information on their LinkedIn pages, Cole, who now works for a tech company called LeadGenius, details his prior employers.

And according to his LinkedIn, from December of 2013 to April of 2014 – overlapping the time he filed his request on behalf of “Public Record Strategies” – he worked for a company called VR Research.

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On 11/12/14 someone named Paul Murre filed a request in Chicago related to an Alderman there, listing Public Record Strategies as his employer. Campaign finance records in California show Murre listing his employer occupation as “RESEARCH ANALYST / VR RESEARCH”.

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Who is VR Research? It looks like they’re one of the biggest political research firms in the country. A search for them turns up ties to them on campaigns all around the country, working for Chevron in California, the Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, in Maryland – where they were allegedly party to some shady dealings, Vegas, and dozens of other campaigns all around the country. According to their site,

Established in 1995, VR Research is a public records research firm that has provided competitive intelligence and helped set the strategic direction for hundreds of clients in more than 45 states, including Fortune 500 companies, labor unions, national political committees, state parties and hundreds of candidates.

You can get a sense of what they do – opposition research – from the stories about them. And you can read a bit about it on their website:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT RELATIONS FIRMS

We assist public affairs and government relations firms throughout their campaigns. We help them understand the motivations of key decision makers, formulate rapid responses for crisis communications campaigns and refine the messages tested in polls and focus groups.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS

We help political consultants distinguish their clients from the people they run against. We use public records research to develop key distinctions that inform a campaign’s creative and communications planning in ways that resonate with both voters and the media.

Among their big clients are national labor unions – AFL-CIO in particular having paid them every one of the last few years, according to financial filings by the union:

2014:

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2013:

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2012:

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2011:

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Given the nature of their request attacking Leslie Larson and McCormack, their place in the politics of the schools is pretty clear – they’re firmly aligned with MCAS and the MEA. We can’t say for sure who they’re working for in Montclair – there aren’t any records. But their allegiances are pretty obvious, and whether it’s Gayl Sheppard or Sean Spiller that brought them to town isn’t that material. For the last year, the MEA / MCAS group has – in addition to the dozens of FOIAs they’ve been filing locally – had a big national opposition research / political consulting firm targeting Montclair’s school leaders. In addition to making their recent protestations more than a little hypocritical, it makes pretty clear the political games they’ve been playing around our schools.

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