House Democrats blur line between tracking and stalking

Meagan Clark | Contributor

House Democrats tracking GOP congressmen and candidates are recording and posting videos online of the private homes of GOP families, pushing past traditional perimeters of campaign surveillance.

Both parties employ staffers to record their opponents’ every public statement and appearance, but Democrats have unapologetically shown the public the often large and well-maintained homes of their Republican targets, and have even published addresses, Politico reports.

Pointing out the prosperity of Republicans has become a popular jab from Democrats, who hope to show the GOP cannot relate to the middle class or anyone struggling to stay afloat financially.

“House Republicans have spent this entire Congress trying to hide that they’re protecting benefits for millionaires and perks for themselves instead of protecting the middle class, but we won’t let them keep it secret any longer,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesman Jesse Ferguson wrote in an email to Politico.

Republicans, meanwhile, say the videos are an invasion of privacy and threaten the safety of members of Congress and their families.

Wisconsin GOP Rep. Reid Ribble believes the home videos are “totally inappropriate.” A cameraman followed him while he shopped for groceries.

A silent clip of Ribble’s large home appeared online on June 18. The video pans the home from different angles for 38 seconds.

“It was disturbing to me that they would put that online,” Ribble told Politico. “I don’t understand any political benefit that can be achieved with that.”

Ribble’s wife, DeaNa, said the videos are deeply unsettling.

“I’m more creeped out about this than Reid is, just because I’m home more,” she said. “If they so much as put a foot on private property, I will be the first person to call the police.”

Although Republican trackers have made headlines — an intern made headlines recording former North Carolina Democratic Rep. Bob Ethridge grabbing and shouting at another intern on a sidewalk in 2010 — the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) insists they do not endorse publishing videos of private residences.

“Our trackers serve as eyes and ears to hold Democrats accountable in public events and public spaces only,” NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay told Politico in an email. “Anything beyond that would be a violation of our policy.”

On  Tuesday, aides to Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop said they spotted a Republican tracker working for Bishop’s Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler, sitting with a camera outside Bishop’s home on Long Island, but the Bishop campaign told Politico they did not believe any footage of the home is public.

Democratic officials defend their video tactics and say posting them to the DCCC’s website and YouTube is useful because it allows outside groups to use the videos in TV commercials without coordinating with them and violating laws.

Outside groups have also produced tracker videos of their own. Colorado Fair Share posted a video of volunteers knocking on Republican Rep. Mike Coffman’s front door in an effort to show voters the congressman is often absent from his district.

“I think that when you decide to run for office, it’s like being a celebrity — you take the responsibility of being in the public eye,” Colorado Fair Share spokeswoman Ali Cochran told Politico. “We didn’t intend for this to be nasty. We were trying to show that this guy is inaccessible to his constituents.”

California Republican Assemblyman David Valadao said he recognizes the risks of public office, and his family is prepared to deal with those risks. Videos of his two farms have surfaced online.

“It’s one of those things. We know we’re in this position, and it’s part of the job. I wish it wasn’t,” Valadao said. “We have alarms on the house. My wife knows how to use weapons. As far as safety goes, we do our best to be cautious and to keep track of our kids.”

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