KEEPING CAMPAIGN SECRETS
Most campaigns try very hard to prevent their opponents from slipping people into the campaign to steal information. You should definitely be very careful about who has access to the details of your campaign strategy. However, the bigger threat is usually from supporters and even the candidate simply talking too much.
You have to be especially careful of a particular type of agent who may be fully supportive of your campaign, but who has a deep-seated need to show other people how important he is. The fact that he has “insider” information on the campaign plans can prove to people that he really is a key player. People like this don’t mean to hurt your campaign, but they will blab your campaign secrets to others in an attempt to impress them. They may talk exclusively to other people they think support you, but once the secrets are on the street, they tend to spread quickly. The odds of key information getting back to your opponent are high. That simple human trait of wanting to be the person in the know can be very damaging.
Your polling data, targeted precincts, issues strategy and opposition research material are all at risk with folks like this. An old political joke goes “It is top secret so please don’t tell anyone. And please be sure to tell anyone you tell not to tell anyone either.” Way too many agents think they have the right to make an independent judgment about who they can share information with.
Your best defense is to strictly limit the number of agents who have access to key information and to stress to them the importance of keeping it to themselves. You can often spot the volunteers who may cause problems because they tend to gossip heavily about people and other campaigns and they love to be the first one to share any bit of news with you.
Oddly enough, the candidate is often the second biggest source of campaign leaks. I have actually chatted with candidates who knew I was managing their opponent’s campaign who have shared all sorts of valuable information with me. And, I’ve had my own candidates talk freely to acquaintances who were also friends of their opponents.
Candidates are often especially bad about sharing information with reporters. The top aide to an elected official I knew spent a significant amount of time trying to track down who had leaked some inside information to a reporter. He later found out that his boss had been the offender.
Candidates also meet people in public places and chatter away about their campaigns with complete disregard for who might be hearing their discussion. In one, admittedly unique, instance, my candidate’s wife was seated in a booth in a hotel right behind one of the other candidates. The other candidate was pitching his candidacy to a contributor and she heard all sorts of interesting things. The other candidate was an also-ran in a large primary field so his loud discussion didn’t do any real damage, but it was still pretty foolish.
So, limit access to important campaign information and stress the importance of keeping the information private to those who need to have access to the campaign’s secrets. Don’t assume anyone knows better than to share it with outsiders.