Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Political Spamming

I have two friends who do political email, so I don’t mean to slam the entire industry, I just want to point out that recently, as a SF voter with the Democratic Party, I’ve been the victim of a lot of unwarranted email.

Here is my story (to the sound effects of Law & Order).

I made the mistake of putting down my email (which is optional) last time I voted. Adding my email to my voter registration information was eye-opening, because in the following months, I got about 5 emails from Democratic Party candidates, and multiple emails per candidate. Doing some research and replying to the emails, I asked, “where did you get my email” and they replied with conflicting stories of: “Public records,” and “Don’t worry, these emails aren’t public.” I kid you not.

When I pointed the various CAN-SPAM compliant issues with the emails, one guy pointed out, “CAN-SPAM was created for commercial emails.” The implicit understanding here that he can disregard them because it doesn’t apply, reminded me of the issues lately with CAN SPAM – if you’re concerned about the new rules, you have some bigger problems with your email marketing campaigns, because they’re basic courtesy to your audience, not random government regulations. Ironic that a politician is seeking to avoid regulations…

My beef with his (and the other 4) emails; : no physical address with which to follow-up on unsubscription, no one-click unsubscription method, no “we got your email from here” mention, and a host of other general bad marketing elements. The most notably: making me even ask “where did you get my email.” See the end of this post for recommendations to political campaigners.

I’m not mentioning the candidates because I don’t want to give them press for doing something badly! If you have any examples, though, I’d love hear it.

Some research on the state of these email databases of registration info, and how it varies by state, and email collection at voter registration:
- Great (if old) article on

One of our own email marketers tackles the same issue: ClickZ on Political Campaigns, Known Spammers & CAN-SPAM. Jeanne’s a lot nicer than me- just because we haven’t regulated politicians doesn’t mean they can email without a method of unsubscription!

- Initiative to collect political spam on Greg Dewar’s site.

So, in reading up on California voter info, here is a sign-up form from the California Voter Foundation. In trying to find how they’d use my email, I saw this somewhat confusing paragraph:

The voter registration forms ask for basic information, including your name, street address, mailing address (if different), birthdate, the county in which you reside, and your place of birth (U.S. state or foreign country). The form also asks for your driver’s license number, email address and phone number; although you are not required to provide this information, a phone number will help your county clerk contact you if there are any problems with your form. For information about choosing a political party affiliation, see the section above.

The Wired article refers to the confusing nature of the email collection- no explanation of how it’s going to be used, along with the “place of birth.” (at least not your mother’s maiden name like some states!) For personal identity issues alone, I’d be wary of entering this stuff in a databank that is sent out to candidates.

In general, why do politicians get such lax rules? Did the crafters of CAN-SPAM actually think that candidates would (or could) ethically deal with this? The examples in my inbox show something different. I would setup a best practices for political emailing as:
- say early in the paragraph, where you got the email form
- provide a direct one-click link to unsubscribe from the candidates’ email list
- provide a real address for follow-up questions
- guarantee a one week turnaround on unsubscription requests
- do not harvest more information in the unsubscription process

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Written on Tuesday, 20. May 2008 at 22:23 In the category spam. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Read the Comments. Trackbacks- Trackback on this post. Share on FriendFeed

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  1. Thanks for this interesting tip! The question you pose is a good one.

    Comment: PunditMom – 21. May 2008 @ 6:56 am

  2. [...] Industry, Permission, Spam At Adventures in Email Marketing, there is a post up this morning about political spam. It seems Anna discovered that providing her email address on her voter registration card not only [...]

    Pingback: Word to the Wise » Political Spam – 21. May 2008 @ 8:07 am

  3. This is similar to the rules on the Do Not Call list vs. the political “robocalls” one gets besieged with because they’re a) cheap and b) easy (says the guy who sells these things). Political calls initially got a pass because of freedom of speech issues for political causes and the like, but there may be some changes in Congress and the Legislature.

    Emails and campaigns are a little different. There are companies that compile voter lists that match up everything from public tax records, to magazine subscriptions and car registrations to develop a more targetable voter. These same companies are now matching emails. However in the case of most data companies they send a generic email asking the person if they want to receive political mails or not and include an opt-out.

    Unfortunately, if you register to vote and put in your email address, it becomes a public record anyone can see, and lame campaigns (like a certain campaign for Congress in SF) can grab ‘em and start spamming away, like morons.

    Comment: greg – 21. May 2008 @ 11:50 am

  4. Thanks for commenting, Greg, I was hoping you would but hadn’t had the time this morning to send you the link- ah the joys & ease of RSS!

    I wondered if this was similar to the phone-banks. I’ve noticed a $$ difference between campaigns- the underfunded tend to spam. And honestly, it’s not that different in the private sector.

    Comment: banane – 21. May 2008 @ 12:04 pm

  5. I’ve called this “the marketing disease,” but it’s even more prevalent when marketing political ideas: people get so strongly convinced that their message is important that they cannot even imagine anyone might not want to hear it.

    Unfortunately, convincing them otherwise is nearly impossible because it requires a major shift in their worldview — much like trying to convince a devoutly religious person that god doesn’t exist.

    Comment: J.D. – 22. May 2008 @ 9:37 am

  6. totally agree JD, I call it “provincialism,” that your list is dying to hear every little tidbit from your company, and that they fully knowingly signed up, and there’s no reason to
    - justify your communication (with an introductory paragraph or “how I got this” explanation)
    - double-opt-in

    Comment: banane – 24. May 2008 @ 11:35 am

  7. [...] mailing list with that to: address, Pottery Barn has sold your list. I should have done this when I registered to vote! Yahoo has a more convoluted method, called “disposable emails,” using AddressGuard, [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Disposable Email Addresses: Just a Geek Thing? | – 28. May 2008 @ 1:42 am

  8. [...] who is currently integrating social networking in campaigns, commented on my post regarding Political Spam, in his post, Email Spam From Campaigns in Full Force: Political campaigns need to resist the urge [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Political Campaigns… Doing It Right | – 02. June 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  9. [...] wrote about Political Spamming, and how our dearly elected circumvent and generally ignore CAN-SPAM regulations, and general email [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » More Spam: PR | – 08. June 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  10. [...] political campaigns: – Email as Web Content Case Study: Barack Obama – Political Spam Written on Tuesday, 12. August 2008 at 14:12 In the cateogry campaigns, mobile. Follow the [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Email to Text Message: Obama Campaign | – 12. August 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  11. Wow – so happy I found this. I am a professional Online Marketer. I received a SPAM from a local city council member running for office in American Canyon. I horrified because I thought that he’d filched my email from the city’s alert system. (For power outages and the like.)

    I replied to him and explained how awful and illegal spamming was and quoted the California Anti-Spam statues.

    He then explained that I apparently “opted-in” to this when I gave them my email when I registered to vote. WHAT??!!! And then told me that sending unsolicited email wasn’t illegal. (I resent him the part in the law stating that it was indeed illegal.)

    His email looked like one of those bad Mom-Spam Joke emails. About 20 points too large and all in bold as well. No opt-out, no explanation of where he got the email. And then he’s super-arrogant with his responses.

    Comment: Carlene – 25. August 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  12. Thanks Carlene- also glad you wrote here so that we can continue to work to control the spamminess of politicians. That politician sounds clueless, and the more young people who are savvy with online marketing and social media start getting involved, these political dinosaurs will really feel the pinch. Funny, that the poltiican got the “real person behind the email” right, but then treated you badly!

    Comment: Anna Billstrom – 25. August 2010 @ 3:42 pm

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