WASHINGTON -- Veep vetting is going public -- even viral -- which means a decision Mitt Romney thought he was making in private could be influenced, or undermined, by a parallel search going on beyond his headquarters in Boston.
Until now the process of researching the background of potential vice-presidential running mates was largely left to campaign lawyers conducting secret interviews and poring over stacks of documents and disclosure forms in windowless offices.
But as the Romney campaign has developed its short list, a crowd-sourcing mini-industry has sprung up on the web to dig into that list and feed the results back to the public and/or the Obama campaign.
The public in some cases may end up providing much more information about each candidate that the campaign itself could have found. That's not necessarily a bad thing for the Romney campaign, by the way. If there is a pitfall out there, the campaign may learn about it from its own enemies.
American Bridge, a progressive news and information cooperative, is focusing on four veep top-listers: Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. American Bridge is posting its readers' findings online.
"Our research here is still underway," the editors of the site say on the page. "Have video, a tip or a lead we should follow?"
It's not clear whether the editors would necessarily want to post all the damaging information they collect. After all, you don't turn over your hole cards in Texas Hold 'Em until it's time to rake in the chips.
The Obama campaign itself is appealing for "stories" about the GOP veep prospects. Its list is slightly different: Portman, Pawlenty, Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. For some reason, they didn't ask about Ryan.
"Do you live in FLA, LA, OH, NJ or MN?" the state directors of those states asked Obama supporters.
"If you do, we have something to ask.
"Soon, Mitt Romney will announce his nominee for Vice President, and it could be someone you know.
"Over the next few posts, campaign staff in Minnesota, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, and Louisiana will be sharing what they know about Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rob Portman, and Bobby Jindal, and asking you what you know.
"If you live in a state that has elected one of these potential VP picks to another office, we'd love to hear from you -- you must have some stories to share."
The campaign promised to "share" them. But don't expect to see the juiciest stuff -- otherwise known as crowd-sourced "oppo" -- until after Romney names his pick.
And if you are a Republican who wants to drop a dime on your rival, now you know where to do it: the Obama website.
The Obama campaign, in fact, fixed the kinks in its system during the GOP primary season, using crowd-sourcing appeals to gather information, videos and other oppo that it then used to sow dissension in the GOP intramural wars.
"We did these during the primaries, too," said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt. "We won't use any of the info until the pick's unveiled."
Of course not. If you're Mitt, you'll want to make sure you know what the crowd knows.