OpenGov Voices: CandidateVerification – transparency in political background checks

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An image of David Doud of candidateverification.org
Davie Doud, Executive Director, CandidateVerification. Image credit: Candidateverification.org

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan used the proverb “trust and verify” as a signature phrase of relations with the Soviet Union. Post 9/11, we’ve learned we also need to “trust and verify” before you buy a car and before you hire a new employee. In fact, you can’t coach a little league team or do many volunteer jobs without completing a background check.

It’s time we extended that same verification standard to political candidates. As a former two-time candidate in Washington State, I know first-hand the impact of candidates withholding information from voters. In my 2004 bid for the State House, my primary opponent had filed for chapter 7 two years before the election, a revelation that didn’t emerge until after I narrowly lost the race and one that Democrats used to defeat the GOP nominee by a wide margin in the general election.

Then, in my 2009 race for the Port of Seattle, we discovered and revealed that my opponent had a tax lien filed against him for abusing the unemployment insurance system. While it didn’t change the outcome of the election, that red flag was predictive, as my former opponent resigned in disgrace from the Port Commission last year, dragging the whole organization through the mud in the process.

CandidateVerification is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that is like the “Carfax of politics,” providing political candidates with self-authorized background checks in order to refute personal attacks and increase openness and trustworthiness overall. CandidateVerification uses the same tools and checks as any other business or government agency would use when hiring a new employee. Partnered with the fifth largest (and arguably most reputable) employment screening company, TalentWise, our Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant self-authorized background checks cover 10-year criminal/civil records, as well as verify education, employment, professional credentials and military records.

A screenshot of candidateverification.org website
candidateverification.org. Image credit: candidateverification.org

Daily, candidates are signing up to our service through our integration with Ballotpedia, the online political encyclopedia.

“Shoring up our candidate biographies with a verification step will help provide our readers with another tool in their evaluation process,” says Leslie Graves, President of Ballotpedia.

While not a panacea to candidate foibles, or a replacement for traditional opposition research, it counteracts the corrosive influence of “October surprises” in our body politic. In an age when social trust is a growing currency, CandidateVerification provides a means to establish credibility online. And when we get political candidates talking, then we must be doing something right. Antonio D. Mannings, a Republican candidate for the Illinois State House, 2nd District had this to say about the background checking tool:

“When I decided to run for State Representative in the 2nd District in my home state of Illinois there were some obvious considerations. Time, effort and money are the norm, but I also thought about how I would be perceived not just by my family and friends but also by the residents of the district and the population at large. I wanted to distinguish myself from the “common” politician in Illinois as I intend to be fully transparent. To that end I was delighted to work with David Doud and his team at CandidateVerification/Talentwise. I was granted the opportunity to verify my credentials and background through a trusted, independent 3rd party organization. Once my verification was completed, I was given the opportunity to have my report published on websites like Ballotpedia and Candidate Verification. I am happy to endorse the organization, the work they do and the process”

And Joey Taylor, a Democratic candidate for Kentucky State House, 89th District encouraged “all candidates to participate in this.” Noting that it “makes a clear statement that you have nothing to hide!”

When Long Beach City Council candidate Jim Lewis used the tool, he commented: “A candidate should model during the campaign what he or she will do when in office. Transparency started before I even filed for the campaign — it’s been part of my life for 12 years as a nonprofit executive. So, when I came across a service that verifies a candidate’s background, I thought you, the public, deserve this. So valuable a tool, I donated the cost back to the organization.”

We hope our daily traction with Ballotpedia shines a spotlight on the opportunity to extend this basic due diligence to the 500,000 elected officials and their challengers. The mission of CandidateVerification is to expand our network of distribution and funding. Only with a coalition can we raise the bar of transparency for candidates running for elective office.

David Doud is the Executive Director of Candidateverification.org — an online tool that provides free background checks for politicians. David is also the owner of Doud Partners, a real estate firm based in Bellevue, Washington. You can reach David at daviddoud@hotmail.com or follow him at @CandidateCheck.

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