News & Resources

Do political email campaigns put identities at risk?

Feb 22, 2012 Karen Umpierre

States are asking for email identity verification on voter registration cards in order to flood inboxes with unsolicited emails, Fox News reports. Specifically, 19 states as well as the District of Columbia currently ask for email addresses on voter registration cards. However, eight of the states fail to clearly mark that it's optional to provide such information. Also, nowhere on the cards do the states mention that voter emails can be sold to political parties, organizing groups, lawmakers and campaigns to build their email databases. That's because political spam isn't illegal. The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) law enacted in 2003 placed restrictions on commercial mass emailing, but not on those of a political nature, as all political messages are protected as free speech under the First Amendment. "Politicians love the fact that their perceived freedom of speech is more important than voters' privacy," Shaun Dakin, president and CEO of nonprofit voters' rights advocacy group The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, told the media outlet. Kim Alexander, president of nonprofit The California Voter Foundation, feels voters are being taken advantage of. "People who are in the election business, people who are administrators, people who are in campaigns, they all know what's going on," she told the media outlet. "The voters are in the dark, and that has got to change. It's disrespectful and it's deceitful." Alexander was part of an initiative in California that redesigned the state's voter registration card to make the word "optional" more apparent, to inform voters that they're not required to provide the information. However, Stuart Shapiro, president of iConstituent, a firm which sends out emails for political clients, feels Alexander isn't seeing the big picture. "I don't think it is fair to portray that states are selling voter files or selling voter email addresses," Shapiro told the news source. "What they're doing is they're collecting voter information. They're providing that information in a wholesome and legal way to those parties that have the legal right to use them." Republican candidate Newt Gingrich recently took some heat regarding the legitimacy of his political email list, The Washington Post reports. A complaint was filed by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to the Federal Election Committee (FEC), claiming Gingrich's campaign bought the list from Gingrich himself for $42,000 during the third quarter of 2011. The mailing list payment was not declared on FEC disclosure forms.