HowTo Investigate Finances of Politicians #2

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Posted by andreas from ( on Monday, December 02, 2002 at 5:36AM :

Hackers vs. Politicians, Part II
by J. Orlin Grabbe


Politicians are those annoying people who--drink in hand--can stare at a uuencoded file for hours, fall into a sexual reverie involving ASCII entities, and then weave their way to the nearest TV camera to pontificate about pornography on the Internet.

But, you ask, if they are so dumb, why are they so rich? Sometimes the latter *is* a mystery, reminiscent of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

Take the case of a man who can hardly pay his bills, but who gets elected to national political office and goes off to Washington for a few years. Then--lo and behold!--on his simple politician's salary, he suddenly manages to maintain two fine homes, one inside the beltway in Chevy Chase and another in his home town community of Rat's Ass, to purchase new cars for his wife and himself, to accumulate lakefront property in a neighboring county, and to stash away a nice sum of cash in a foreign bank account.

If the "simple politician's salary" bit sounds improbable, it probably is. Let's face it: many politicians are on the take. They may have hidden sources of income involving illegal payoffs from corporations, lobbying groups, or individuals. Are you a student? Then you will be proud to know that educational commissions and associations are also a hot new conduit for political bribes.

This article suggests a few basic procedures for finding out whether that special politician you have in mind is getting more on the side than ASCII sex. Honest politicians, of course, will have nothing to fear from any of the following.

Is what I am about to do legal? you ask. Of course it is. To reassure yourself, pull out your world-wide web browser and take a peak at one of the many data service companies, say Insights, Inc. (located at They promise, using only an individual or business name and/or address, to provide sufficient information for:

Preparing Due Diligence Reports
Locating People or Businesses
Exposing and Controlling Fraud
Uncovering & Verifying Background Information
Identifying and Verifying Assets
How do they get away with this? Simple. They legally search public records. Much of this public-record information is computerized, although some of it is not. In any event, I do not advocate illegal or questionable access methods, or the breaking of any laws. Checking up on the (possibly criminal) politician of your choice doesn't have to be a crime.

Still not convinced? Hop over to Infonet (, which for a fee will mine public records for nuggets like:

Felony and Misdemeanor Criminal Filings--"Search any court in the nation for a seven year history of criminal filings and possible convictions." (Many politicians wait until they reach office to work on this part of their resume, but some are early starters.)

Driving Histories--"Search a three to seven year history of an individuals driving performance, including tickets and accidents." (So you don't really care if your politician speeds a little now and then. But, on the other hand, did that official who helped him get out of a DWI expect a quid pro quo?)

Upper and Lower Court Civil Filings--"Obtain a civil litigation history of any individual in any court in the United States." (Is there some hidden reason this guy is getting sued all the time?)

Social Security Number Tracking--"Access all three credit bureaus to verify the user of a social security number and the addresses being used." (Having your politician's social security number is the next best thing to having his Swiss bank account number.)

Professional Licensing--"Verify the existence and status of an entity's license in a specific practice area, such as private investigation, medicine, real estate and more." (Was your politician really a world-renowned physicist before returning home to run for mayor of Rat's Ass?)

Consumer and Business Credit Reports--"Review account balances, credit terms and payment histories for an individual or business." ("So, before he went to Washington, he couldn't pay his bills . . .")
Well, if they can do it, so can you.

So where do you start? Well, first see what the politician him/herself has to say about the money flows. Federal law (5 USC app. 6, section 101 et seq.) requires members of Congress to file *Financial Disclosure Statements* yearly. The Financial Disclosure form has nine parts:

Schedule I: Earned Income
Schedule II: Payments in Lieu of Honoraria Made to
Schedule III: Assets and "Unearned Income"
Schedule IV: Transactions.
Schedule V: Liabilities
Schedule VI: Gifts
Schedule VII: Fact-Finding, Substantial Participation,
and Other Travel
Schedule VIII: Positions
Schedule IX: Agreements

Want to see Newt Gingrich's personal finances for the year 1993? Direct your web browser to newtwatch/93sei.html.

Many state, county, and city elections have similar requirements, either on a personal or a campaign basis. Want to see a copy of the *Candidate Campaign Statement-Long Form-Form 490* for Joel Ventresca, candidate for Mayor of San Francisco? Visit Campaign Net at

These statements represent what a politician says he or she has or gets. But the really interesting items--like those kickbacks from the Cali cartel--not surprisingly go unreported. To get the good stuff, you will need your full hacker armor.

The first thing to get is your politician's *social security number (SSN)*. It's not difficult. Your politician loves to be photographed doing his/her civic duty of voting. Which means he or she fills out a *voter's registration card* (public information) which will contain said politician's name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, and--usually--social security number. Voter files may be obtained at your politician's local county court house, as well as on many on-line data bases. A person's SSN is the common key that links together many commercial and government data bases.

Can't find the SSN number on the voter's registration card? Then try *DMV* records. The insurance lobby has made sure that driver's records are easy to get, along with the details of any accidents, and critical driver information such as height, color of eyes, address--and social security number, if the latter was required information on the form. (California won't give out addresses, if a request has been filed not to do so--the "movie star" exemption.) In about 20 states the individual's social security number is the driver's license number.

Still searching? Then go with the triple whammy of the major credit bureaus--TRW, TransUnion, and CBI/Equifax. The Fair Credit Reporting Act essentially implies you must be contemplating a business relationship--such as selling a car, renting an apartment, giving a loan, or attempting to collect on a judgment--with a party to request his credit report. But the *header* information in the file--such as social security number, date of birth, address, and spouse's name--is legally available to anyone, and your inquiry (unlike an actual credit report) will leave no footprints. The addresses and phone numbers are:

660 N. Central Expressway, Exit 28
Allen, TX 75002
Automated phone: 800-392-1122
Phone: 800-422-4879

5505 Peachtree Dunwoody, #600
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241.
Automated phone: 800-685-1111
Phone: 800-685-5000

Trans Union
P.O.Box 7000
North Olmsted OH 44070-7000
Automated phone: 800-851-2674
Phone: (714) 738-3800, ext. 6450

Are you a hacker-journalist? Then take a peak at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR; located at Their bylaws prohibit them from selling data to nonjournalists (not that you want to *buy* data anyway--we're just exploring *possibilities*). But data is "sold at or below costs to journalism organizations or individuals for legitimate journalism uses only." (Doing your civic duty to keep tabs on your politician is, naturally, a legitimate journalistic use of the data.) Their data bases include these publicly-available information sets, among others:

Organization: Government Services Agency
Databases: Federal Procurement Contracts for 1992-1994.

Organization: Federal Election Commission
Databases: Campaign Contributions for the 1991-1994
election cycle.

Organization: Federal Reserve Board
Databases: home mortgage loans covered by Home Mortgage
Disclosure Act (for 1992-1994)

Organization: Federal Aviation Administration
Databases: Service Difficulty Reports, Airman Directory,
Aircraft Registry

Organization: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Databases: Uniform Crime Reports

Organization: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Databases: Gun Dealer Licenses

The existence of such data immediately brings to mind a barrage of possibly relevant questions:

Is there an incestuous relationship between the donors to your politician's campaign and subsequent federal government contracts? (It always starts somewhere . . .) To find out, compare federal procurement data with campaign contributions. Campaign contribution data from the Federal Election Commission are supposed to include all contributions by individuals and political action groups (PACs) to a politician's federal election campaign. The Government Services Agency, meanwhile, keeps Individual Contract Action Reports (ICARs), which has information about the federal agency granting a government contract, the identity of the contractor, and the contract dollar amount.

Has your politician recently purchased a new home? What is its value? What was the down payment? Is he or she living suspiciously beyond his or her means? What is your politician's race or gender (DNA sequence?)? To start to answer these questions, look at home mortgage data. The Federal Reserve Board started keeping data like this in order to check on "fair" lending practices. So the Fed began tracking home and home-improvement loans, as well as bank-purchased loans. (And just to help the enterprising hacker, when your politician is buying, or possibly refinancing, a house, most banks will now ask for his Social Security Number on the Deed of Trust, especially as the Federal National Mortgage Association now requires it.)

Does your politician own an aircraft? What's its value? Did he purchase it with cash? Check the FAA's aircraft records.

Does your politician own a gun even while advocating gun control? If he bought the gun from a dealer, ATF records can help out here.

And so on.

Now let's get to the nitty-gritty: *city, county, and state records*. The *City Clerk* in your politician's home town will have a list of business licenses (name, address, date) and building permits (name, address, cost of construction). The *County Clerk* or *County Recorder* should have liens on file (lien holder, payment agreements), a Probate Index (estate settlements), records of lawsuits and judgments, powers of attorney with respect to real estate, records of mortgages on personal property, and bankruptcy papers. Here you can find out not only the value of your politician's property, but also the names, addresses, and property values of everyone who lives on his street. *City and County Courts* will also maintain a Civil Index (civil actions, plaintiffs and defendants, as well as civil files: description of any disputed property or valuables), a Criminal Index (criminal cases in Superior Court, as well as criminal files), and voter's registration files.

The *county tax collector* will have a description of any property owned, as well as taxes paid on real estate and personal property. The *county assessor* may also have maps and photos, or even blueprints showing the location of your politician's hot tub. The *Secretary of State* will have corporation files and possibly annual reports of your politician's company.

Okay, let's go over it again, taking it slow. With your politician's social security number in hand, you can get header information from the major credit bureaus. This will give you a seven to ten year history of addresses, as well any spousal name or names. The latter is very important, since your average politician's instinct will be to keep questionable sums of money and suspect personal assets in the name of his or her spouse, sibling, business associate, or girlfriend.

Next you go to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, to find out your politician's tastes in cars, trucks, motorcyles, boats, trailers, and recreational vehicles. Of course if your politician leases any of the above, he or she will not show up as the vehicle owner. So the next thing to do is to run the license plate number of that Caddy parked out front, since this will give you the name of both lessee and lessor.

Next you talk to someone who does business with your politician, and who thus has a permissible reason under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to run a credit check. This will give you a listing of all your politician's credit accounts, current balances, payment history, and payment terms. Any bankruptcies in the last ten years, or liens or judgments in the last seven years, will be listed. Did your politician suddenly receive a huge campaign contribution from some source, soon after your politician found himself stuck with a quarter million dollar judgment against him? If so, he won't be the first person who has sold out his country to pay off a personal financial debt.

What property does your politician own? The offices of County Recorder and County Tax Assessor will give you the land value, improvement value, and total assesssed values for any property. They will frequently have also the amounts received for any sales, the sale dates, as well as information on the mortgage-holder or other lender. Did your politician get a large loan from Washoe International State Bank just about the time Washoe International State Bank was having trouble with state banking regulators, who are overseen by a legislative committee on which your politician sits?

Does your politician own a business of any consequential size? Then run a business credit check. Who are (were) your politician's business associates? Who are the company officers and principals? Or--if as is commonly the case--your politician is a lawyer, who are the law partners? Look also for bankruptcies, tax liens, public records filings, judgments, and UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) financing statements. These documents may turn out to be filled with all sorts of unexpected names, dates, and activities.

On what honorary commissions does your politician serve? Do the commission's audited financial statements show any payments for services not rendered? This was apparently what New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco was wondering, when he noted, on January 9, 1996, in a letter to the National Center on Education and the Economy: "Statement 11 on your 1990 Federal 990 and Note 5 on your 1990 audited financial statements indicate that the Center had retained the services of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a member of the Rose Law firm, to direct your Workforce Skills Program while she also served as a member of the Center's Board of Trustees. Statement 11 of the 1990 filing indicates that Mrs. Clinton received $23,000 for unspecified services. The 1990 filing also refers to a second contract, which was reported to be in the amount of $150,000 covering the period February 1, 1991 through January 31, 1992, and a similar statement appears on Statement 11 attached to the 1991 Federal 990."

Moreover, did either Hillary Clinton or the Rose Law firm pay taxes on the sums received? (A little birdie tells me neither one did.)

The office of the Secretary of State in any of the 50 states can be a source of UCC searches. UCC Indices will show whether your politician is listed as either a debtor or secured party. (Okay. So your politician is up to his neck in debt to Jackson Stephens. That doesn't mean he listens to a word of political advice Stephens gives him. No way.)

Superior Courts, Federal Bankruptcy Courts, Small Claims Courts, and city, county, and state tax authorities keep records of tax liens, court judgments, and bankruptcy filings. These reveal not only outstanding financial obligations, but also personal and company affiliations, partners, subsidiaries, and dependents. (Is there a Don Lasater or Don Tyson in your politician's background?)

Does your politician really have those degrees he claims? Call the college registrar. Despite what you think, many politicians don't believe in their own "self-made man" rhetoric, and will enhance their resumes with unearned degrees. This in itself may only be a venal sin, but someone who records falsehoods in this area will likely also lie in others.

Has your politician been in the news? Check your library's newspaper file, along with reader's guides, and other news indexes. On the Internet, you can quickly search for your politician's name among the 8 billion words on 16 million WWW pages, using the new Alta Vista search utility created by Digital Equipment Corporation. You can also do a name or keyword search through all 13,000 Usenet groups. Alta Vista is located at .

Be sure to read Lee Lapin's book The Whole Spy Catalog (Intelligence Incorporated, 2228 S. El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403; ISBN 1-880231-10-7) for literally dozens of names, addresses, and phone numbers of data information providers, along with an evaluation of their services. You don't need to patronize these services in order to steal ideas from them.

Basically none of these providers specializes in politicians, so after a little self-education and set-up, you may be in a position to start your own business in political investigations. Bill yourself as a 21st Century Sherlock Holmes. (*Somebody* has to stop the nefarious influence of DigiCrime, Inc., found at

Oh. About those foreign bank accounts. Well, I'll leave that to your imagination. But a little birdie told me if you call a military base computer, find an out-dial number, call another military base, and so on, going through a *minimum* of three military bases, any trace back will stop at the third military base.

Whatever you do, don't do anything illegal.

Posted to the Internet November 4, 1996.

-- andreas
-- signature .

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