Political candidates don’t need background checks. Seriously?
Purple Politics Nevada with Lucia Starbuck is KUNR’s monthly show about Nevada politics and the 2024 election. This episode is about a lesser-known truth: political candidates don’t undergo background checks, and one Nevada-based organization’s efforts to change that.
To file for candidacy in Nevada, a small list of conditions must be met that vary by office, including age and residency restrictions, one must be eligible to vote, and pay a filing fee.
That’s why Jody Baden founded Transparency in Politics. The organization encourages political candidates and elected officials to voluntarily publish a background check on their personal history, such as work, education, and military experience.
“I’ve talked to a lot of voters, I’ve talked to a lot of candidates, people in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. And if you’re not running for office, or you haven’t been involved in politics, you assume that candidates are vetted in some way,” Baden said.
The organization had its first candidate running for school board in Tampa, Florida, go through the background check process. But there hasn’t been much of an appetite for it locally, among both parties, and endorsers, Baden said. Yet she believes it is a beneficial avenue for candidates to be transparent about their backgrounds.
“I think candidates should want some facts out about themselves and not just have the public depend on the mudslinging ads from the other side,” Baden said.
Baden said it can be very concerning if someone with a history of financial problems or a criminal record is making policy decisions that affect a large number of people. And lying isn’t typically considered illegal.
“I’m concerned about our country, and I’m concerned about democracy, and I’m concerned about the truth,” Baden said.
Listen to this month’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada with Lucia Starbuck about Baden’s quest for background checks for political candidates.
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LUCIA STARBUCK, HOST: Welcome to Purple Politics Nevada. I’m your host, Lucia Starbuck. The name reflects the fact that Nevada isn’t red or blue — it’s both.
Today, we’re talking about background checks for political candidates. I’m joined by Jody Baden, founder and owner of Transparency in Politics. Thanks so much for being here with me.
JODY BADEN, GUEST: Thank you so much for having me. I’m eager to share with you.
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STARBUCK: So your organization, it allows political candidates and elected officials to be transparent about their history through a background check. Are you saying that this isn’t already required? I had to get a background check to work at Sam’s Club.
BADEN: I think this is a great question because, you know, I’ve talked to a lot of people, I’ve talked to a lot of voters, I’ve talked to a lot of candidates, people in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. And if you’re not running for office, or you haven’t been involved in politics, you assume that candidates are vetted in some way.
BADEN: However, almost none of the information that’s provided at the Registrar of Voters office is verified; you simply present an ID and write a check for most all of the offices.
STARBUCK: Wow. I think this has definitely been put on people’s minds, especially this year with New York Congressman George Santos, who fabricated quite a bit of his resume, his schooling, his work experience, his family history. Where is this conversation now?
BADEN: Well, I think the voters are alarmed. And I think people are clamoring for more transparency, at least a resume verification and criminal background check. And so it’s left up to opposition research or the public to determine whether someone really is not qualified to run for that office. And, of course, as we see with George Santos, it’s almost impossible to get them out.
STARBUCK: I would even caution against just relying solely on opposition research because, you know, that has an agenda of its own, too.
BADEN: Correct, and I think candidates should want some facts out about themselves and not just have the public depend on the mudslinging ads from the other side. I think this is a chance for candidates to be proactive about things that might need more explanation that could come up.
STARBUCK: So how did your organization come about?
BADEN: I just was so disgusted with the lying. I mean, politics has been full of lying forever — this is not really new — but the epidemic proportion of lying in the last election had me really distressed. It’s not illegal unless you perjure yourself or you commit fraud, you know, very few cases where lying is really illegal.
But what could be done about it? Well, it’s not going to be legislated. There’s really no appetite for that. I thought, “Well, if it’s voluntary, maybe some people who really want to disclose their background and feel like integrity is important will go for it.”
STARBUCK: Yeah, how concerning is it if someone does have maybe this more sinister past that’s not out in the open, and now they’re in office?
BADEN: I think depending on the type of, let’s say, crime that it is, I think it can be very concerning. When someone’s in office, making decisions that affect so many people, making decisions about money, and they have some kind of criminal past, whether it’s a financial problem or it’s something more sinister, I think it’s a big problem. And I think that could be very damaging.
STARBUCK: You said there’s not a lot of appetite at the legislative level, but who is biting? Give me the details: Who is embracing you? Are they local? What side of the political aisle are they on?
BADEN: Okay, interesting. Well, you know, it’s funny, the voters want it, but the candidates and the parties, and the folks who do endorsing like labor unions, don’t seem to be too interested. I think they’re concerned that, you know, maybe something will come up in a background check that makes their candidate look not so sterling. But I think the nonpartisan offices are probably more open to it.
I have my first Transparency in Politics seal of approval to award to a school board candidate in Tampa, Florida. And so you can see her background check on my website. I’m excited there is someone who wants to be transparent about their background check. That gives me hope.
STARBUCK: What are your hopes for your organization, Transparency in Politics?
BADEN: I hope it’s the start of a movement. And I hope it normalizes background checking for people who run for office. I want people to have confidence in our system. I want to improve the quality of candidates. Many good people don’t want to run because they see a lot of negativity in politics, and they don’t want to be part of it.
STARBUCK: Why is it so important to you personally?
BADEN: Well, I feel like I need to make a difference. You know, I’m not young anymore, and I have one more big project in me, and I think this is it. I’m concerned about our country, and I’m concerned about democracy, and I’m concerned about the truth.
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STARBUCK: That was Jody Baden, founder and owner of Transparency in Politics. Thanks so much for chatting with me.
BADEN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
STARBUCK: I’m Lucia Starbuck, and you’re listening to Purple Politics Nevada.
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The theme song, “Vibe Ace” by Kevin MacLeod, is licensed under Creative Commons and was edited for this episode.