About a week ago Salem's daily newspaper, the Statesman Journal, ran a story, "Statesman Journal partners with nonprofit on political candidates' background checks."
Most businesses run job candidates through a background check before hiring, to ensure there are no surprises or issues that didn't come up during the interview process.
With that in mind, the Statesman Journal is partnering with a nonpartisan, nonprofit called Verify More to do background checks on Mid-Valley political candidates.
This idea struck me as strange at the time. Now that I've learned more about Verify More, I'm adding disturbing and creepy to describe how I feel about this budding partnership with the Statesman Journal.
What got me to look into this was a message I received from a local candidate for public office. This person told me:
Not sure if you'll find this interesting, but this "non-partisan" non-profit seems to be run and funded by right-wingers. I looked up the guy, David Doud, when I got the invite. He ran for office in Washington a few times as a Republican and lost. Then, the board of the "non-profit" are mostly lobbyists from what I could tell. I talked with a few other candidates and a democratic consultant confirmed that they're funded by real estate developers and other corporate lobbying groups.
I haven't been able to learn who exactly is funding Verify More. The organization's website doesn't share that information, from what I could tell. But let's assume that the Partners listed on the website are financial contributors to Verify More.
Most of these organizations do seem to tilt toward the conservative side of the political spectrum, aside from Amplify Washington and Ballotpedia. And David Doud, the founder of Verify More, was indeed a Republican when he ran for Commissioner of the Port of Seattle.
In his 2009 race for Port Commissioner, Seattle's the Stranger publication had a pleasingly caustic piece about Doud, "David Doud: Dickish!" This was their election endorsement statement.
So this is another sign that Doud leans rightward.
The piece in the Stranger also discussed numerous false or misleading statements David Doud made in his campaign materials, including my favorite -- citing the "Seattle Times online" as the source of a quote that wasn't made by a reporter or editorial writer, but by someone who commented on a Seattle Times story.
Given that Doud now supposedly is all about fostering clean political campaigning, it sure seems discordant that seemingly he didn't run his Port Commissioner campaign that way.
At any rate, I'm left with a feeling that the Statesman Journal may end up regretting its partnership with Doud and his Verify More organization.
There certainly isn't much history to go on. Currently Verify More only has lined up four newspapers to partner with (including the Statesman Journal), and has conducted thirty-one background checks, all on candidates in the state of Washington.
Actually there is more to the Verify More investigation than a background check, as the organization's database lists three categories: Background Check, Resume Verification, and Social Media screening. Here's how the FAQ's describe each:
Background check: Our Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) approved background checks are self-authorized, voluntary and limited in scope to a Multi-State Instant Criminal Check, National Sex Offender Registry, Criminal County Search (10-Year Address History), Criminal Federal Search (10-Year Address History), Civil Federal Search (10-Year Address History), Civil County Search (10-Year Address History). Finally, we offer candidates a safe forum from which to disclose prior criminal convictions or other adverse information beyond the scope of our reports.
Resume Verification: Education, Employment, Professional Credentials, and Military Service Records (e.g. Medals, Tours of Duty), i.e. DD214/SF180.
Social Media screening: There are two types of social media searches: 1) ‘Character Search’ includes negative behaviours a candidate may exhibit online by scouring all publically available content (excludes non-user generated content). 2) ‘Reputation Search’ provides a 360 degree view of a candidate’s reputation by searching all publically available online content (excludes non-user generated content)
The 31-person politician database currently has only one non-green Clear or Verified rating on the 93 ratings. Terry Harder got a red ALERT on the social media screen.
Naturally I had to view the report so I could see what sort of "negative behaviours" (English spelling, for some reason) candidate Harder was exhibiting online. What I found was shocking!
By which I mean, I found it shocking that Verify More would put a big red ALERT next to a candidate's name because the person had some mention of marijuana on Facebook, given that the sale, growing, and use of marijuana is legal in Washington state.
This is one of the reasons I find Verify More to be creepy.
Obviously it's Social Media screening is highly subjective. Yet Harder's opponent would be able to cite Verify More in a campaign ad that says "Terry Harder's character rated an ALERT from a group that checks the background of candidates for public office."
I'll do my best to keep an open mind about Verify More's upcoming ratings of Oregon candidates. I'm just suspicious of the organization's motives, and also its methodology.