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Pols Open the Spam Spigots

By Ken Magill

One of the most irritating aspects of the debate over spam and what to do about it is the constant implication that commercial interests are almost solely to blame for the problem while politicians and political advocates tend to get a pass.

And make no mistake, politicians and political advocates are some of the most egregious spammers in existence.

Case in point: A garbage inbox I set up on Yahoo for the 2008 presidential primaries. In 2007 I signed up for email from every viable primary candidate.

Since then, the address has been slaughtered with political spam from candidates and groups I never requested email from, and some of whom I never even heard of.

For example, the address has received unsolicited email from the conservative Life & Liberty PAC, Socialism Alerts, Americans for Limited Government, the Campaign for Liberty, the Minute Man PAC, the Republican National Committee, Gun Alerts, the Citizens’ Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, Premiere Collectibles (hawking Gov. Mike Hackabee’s book Do the Right Thing) and California Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate Carly Fiorina.

And for those who are tempted to believe the left side of the political aisle is spam free, I have also been spammed by New York Rep. Charles Rangel, Organizing for America, the Democratic Governors Association, Vice President Joe Biden, his son Beau Biden, and Nathan Daschle. 

What is more, messages on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association have arrived from Gov. Bill Richardson, former presidential candidate Howard Dean, Democrat political consultants Paul Begala and James Carville, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the DGA’s finance director Colleen Turrentine, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and the DGA’s chief operating officer Ben Metcalf.

And for those with long memories and amazing attention to detail, yes I did sign up for emails from Gov. Richardson, but not from him on behalf of the DGA.

So is political spamming working and are politicians as ignorant in regards to email’s rules of the road as they’re coming across?

Yes, and sort of because they can be, said Tricia Pridemore in a recent interview. Pridemore co-founded e-mail marketing software provider Socketware in 1997 with four others, including her husband CEO Michael Pridemore. She was chief marketing officer.

Since selling the business in 2006, she has become highly involved in Georgia politics and has witnessed the evolution of political email.

“Go back to when [the] Can Spam [Act of 2003] was passed. Opt outs don’t even have to exist for political campaigns,” she said. “The biggest opt out was that Washington opted themselves out of it, which has made email the Wild West for campaign communications, press releases and fundraisers.

“There is massive list sharing between organizations, candidates and parties,” she said. “In both the Democrat and Republican parties, you have three national arms that are responsible for Washington-related politics. You’ve got a Congressional Committee, a Senatorial Committee and a National Committee whose primary responsibility is to elect the president.

“Your fourth organization is the governors’ organizations,” she said. “So right there you’ve got four places on either side of the aisle where large lists exist. Then you go into candidates. Then you go into state parties. And in state parties, congressional district parties sit outside of county parties.

“So right there you’ve got the opportunity to get the same related message on the same related issue or policy position or candidate or fundraising email from seven different places,” she said. “So yes, in terms of list sharing and slaughtering people’s inboxes, they’re not as careful as the business community tries to be, but it’s because they don’t have to be.”

She added that even recent anti-spam developments, such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail beginning to make delivery decisions based on individuals’ interactions with senders’ messages, have not dampened political spamming and email-list trading.

“Email is still an incredibly powerful tool for parties, candidates and single-issue organizations, regardless of the issue,” she said.

And there’s no sign of political-email restraint in sight. 

It would be nice—not to mention fair—if anti-spammers and technology reporters would more often call out politicians and advocacy groups for the spammers they generally are.

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