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Resume claims like Julianne Ortman’s can trip up a campaign

An executive recruiter says resume boosting is widespread, but an opposition researcher says inflated claims can seriously damage a candidate.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Julianne Ortman, with husband Ray at her side, announced her intentions to seek the Republican nomination to run again Sen. Al Franken.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

A training video by the National Association of Personnel Services, a trade organization for employment recruiters, asks a group of recruiters how many believe the resumes they handle contain false statements. Everyone raised their hands.

State Sen. Julianne Ortman, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, is far from alone when it comes to statements on her website and Facebook page that pad some of her accomplishments.

“The practice of boosting one’s resume is pretty rampant and widespread,” said long-time executive recruiter Dave Dodge of Headwaters Search, a personnel consulting service. “Background checks and resume checks are much more stringent these days than they used to be, [but] it’s not going to catch everything that people might put on a resume.”

Ortman’s website states that she—in partnership with her husband, Ray, an attorney—argued “several very high profile and ground-breaking cases in state and federal court, and in the United States Supreme Court.”

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Her Facebook page implies she had direct involvement in the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, stating she “was one of many from across the nation who argued in the Supreme Court that the plan violated the limits of the Commerce Clause; ultimately the Court agreed, but upheld the mandates in Obamacare as a constitutional use of Congress’s power to tax.”

Brodkorb checks claims

Michael Brodkorb, a political consultant respected for his skills in opposition research, says he checked the Ortman claims in response to a media inquiry.

According to Brodkorb, an official with the U.S. Supreme Court says Ortrman has never been admitted to the high court bar and has never argued a case before the justices.

As for the Ortman’s statement about her role in opposing the Affordable Care Act, Brodkorb says Ortman was in session at the Minnesota Legislature in March, 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing the arguments. She was, he acknowledged, a signer to an amicus brief, as was state representative and GOP candidate for governor Kurt Zellers.

Ortman’s campaign manager, Andy Parrish, maintains the resume claims are accurate, that a brief is part of a Supreme Court case and that Ortman’s husband did argue before the justices as part of a legal team with a firm where he once worked.

Gray area

Tangential involvement in a project can be a resume gray area, said Dodge. “It’s inherent in anybody’s work that it’s not 100 percent [theirs],” he said. “We encourage people to say what were the results of those facts you put down.”

Few resumes contain outright lies, according to Dodge’s experience, although he did recount a job search for a client who held a position with Boeing managing aerospace engineers. A background check revealed no record of the degrees from the schools the client claimed he attended. “It would lead you to believe he had falsified all that information, and yet he was working to help build the planes that you and I fly in,” Dodge said.

Ortman’s resume inflation doesn’t affect life and death situations. In fact, stretching claims as a political candidate isn’t even a violation of campaign laws.

But, Brodkorb wondered, why should Ortman pad her resume at all? Her resume is respectable to begin with, he said, adding: “There’s no need or necessity to manufacture legal work when the legal work she’s done was respectable and her political resume is incredibly qualified.”

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Opposition researchers are often used in high-profile campaigns, looking for claims that raise red flags.

Brodkorb, for example, was part of the Republican team that researched Mark Dayton in the 2010 governor’s race. During the campaign, Dayton made frequent references to his experiences as a public school teacher in New York City, statements that drew the attention of GOP researchers. “Completely accurate,” he said. “We got records from the New York public schools. You’re just pulling independent verification of facts. It’s not that you doubt or disbelieve, it’s a matter of building a documented case file.”

Ortman’s claims could make her vulnerable to her opponents for the Republican endorsement and nomination—Mike McFadden and Jim Abeler—or ultimately to Sen. Al Franken.

“It can really trip you up,” Brodkorb said. “The smartest the thing the campaign could do is take it down, rework it and put it back up.”