CAN-SPAM has a loophole for political “chat” – go figure. It isn’t as if the law is working anyway. And if you thought something along the lines of “well it just takes a few years for the rules to kick in,” then think again. Mid-term elections are just around the corner, and the latest out of Washington, a Federal Elections Commission exemption for email campaigning, is raising fears that the worst of spam is yet to come.
According to WaPo, big campaign contributors can provide unlimited sums for internet campaigning without candidates having to disclose amounts or even the sources. That bucket includes websites, blogging, and of course, email. It is a dream come true for sleazy campaigning (as if there was much else). Huge anonymized donations combined with low cost of reach, and further anonymity if you like.
Here is what I think you are going to get:
– professionally designed astroturf sites supporting every unpopular cause and candidate (with names like “savetheearmark.org”);
– shill blogs operated solely for trolling, written by paid political operatives posing as Aunt Belle out of Des Moine, IA; and
– emails galore for candidates and ballot measures, many with no identifiable source, opt-out link, or place of contact, other that astroturf sites and shill blogs (think SmithBarney phishing email with nothing but a doctored candidate picture and a red, white and blue banner at the top).
Few politicians get the internet, but in this case they are going to get it just right. Politics are at the forefront of many minds, and those minds are made up of two types of people:
– the minority, which are very smart, know they are very smart, will instantly identify the garbage, but won’t have the time or inclination to do anything about it; and
– everyone else.
“Everyone else” is a pretty sizable voting base.
Actually, I should be saying “Spamming from the Judge,” as that is exactly what happened down in Arkansas.
The footer of the message looked like this:
The Judge Griffen for Justice Campaign obtained your email address from a direct marketing provider. The provider gives us email addresses of people who have indicated that marketers may use their email address to inform them about products, information, or services. Our Campaign does not use your email address for any purpose other than to communicate with you about the campaign.
I don’t see any opt-out link in there. Then again, maybe Judges don’t need opt-out in their messages.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen campaign spam, and I doubt it will be the last.
A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida needs a lesson from Merriam-Webster – the definition of hypocrisy will do. Charlie Crist, Florida’s Attorney General, has hard slapped more than one spammer in the much-touted spam capital of America, but he may now have to set his crosshairs on his own campaign staffers. They used a list garnered via a public records request to send campaign emails to folks who opted-in for messages direct from the Governor’s and AG’s offices. Of course, they scrubbed the list for state employees, but never ventured to think “Hey, I wonder if any of these folks are pissed off Democrats.” The list is likely now full of exactly that.
Crist’s political director, Arlene DiBenigno, said “It’s not spam, it’s political speech. We’re not selling anything, we’re not being deceptive. We love the First Amendment, and there’s nothing more powerful than political speech.” Ms. DiBenigno probably read CAN-SPAM, and figured it was all ok (hence the references to “selling anything” and “deceptive”). Now its REALLY “public record,” and going to backfire, but at least she’s not blaming the fiasco on someone else.