Groups skilled in opposition research and separate from the traditional political parties have bombarded U.S. EPA and other federal agencies with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC, as well as America Rising LLC, a private company that's affiliated with a conservative super PAC of the same name, have together sent dozens of requests since last year to several agencies, including EPA, the Department of Commerce, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the National Archives.
According to a review of government records by Greenwire, many of the requests ask for documents on lawmakers running for re-election. Unlike other outside spending groups that concentrate on radio and television ads, American Bridge, created in 2010, and America Rising, founded just last year, have sought to dig up dirt on their opponents in order to embarrass them on the campaign trail.
"FOIA is our standard part of vetting of any incumbent representative or senator -- seeing how they communicate with agencies, what they're doing in office," Joe Pounder, president of America Rising, said in an interview. "It's another part of us matching their rhetoric on the campaign trail with their record. ... It's public information, or at least it should be."
Michael Corwin, owner of Corwin Research & Investigations LLC, said the problem with FOIA is "are you actually getting the information you requested? It's basically the honor system."
Nevertheless, Corwin, who does political and trial investigations, said he uses public records requests as often as possible.
"It makes sense to use them whenever you can. The government is the largest repository of information there is," Corwin said.