Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Candidates and "Spam"

I get a lot of political email. I've been invited to fundraisers for candidates from the far right to the far left, in spaces from lavish ballrooms to modest living rooms. I get invited by close friends and people I've never met. Most email asks for money, but some simply updates me on a candidate's news and views.

I don't think any of it is "spam".

But some people need something to complain about, and, this political season, it's been "spam". A commenter here responded to my endorsements by asking one of the candidate's "policy on sending unsolicited bulk e-mail to promote a campaign". In a nutshell, I don't know and I don't care.

Political speech needs to be free speech. Indeed, our federal laws regulating email recognize that political email is different from commercial "spam", and is entirely legal. Any alternative would be equivalent to our founding fathers passing a law banning pamphleteers.

Campaigns are fairly short-term enterprises. They rely on quickly and efficiently creating networks of like-minded individuals. In prior generations, this process was slow and expensive, relying on snail mail and traditional political clubs. Today, candidates can build email lists from prior campaigns and membership organizations, and create a viable campaign without selling their souls to major donors or third party committees.

The way I see it, each email I receive from a candidate, solicited or not, is evidence of democracy struggling to free itself from the corrupting influence of big money.

Now, I realize that some people need something to whine about, and I'd even agree with those people that candidates ought to be judicious in their use of email to avoid becoming email nuisances. The delete key, however, ought to be a sufficient tool for those who value the purity of their inbox more than freedom of political speech.

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Blogger meesha.v said...

I don't get political spam, although if you want to continue your "pamphleteer" analogy, if pamphleteers attempted to campaign inside my house they would be deleted just like spam is. I do get a daily automated call or two from some political outfit, I never listen all the way through so I am not sure who it is. I think of it as invasion of privacy,not as a sign of democracy.

7/23/2008 7:45 AM  
Anonymous the nitwit said...

"if pamphleteers attempted to campaign inside my house they would be deleted just like spam is."

Um, what about all the mailings the campaigns send out? I'm getting two or three a day from the various campaigns. To me spam is a lot less annoying: it doesn't kill trees, and it doesn't fill up my trash can/recycle bin. I just hit one button and it's gone. So exactly how is that more intrusive than a physical piece of paper or cardstock that I have to deal with?

I gotta agree with Dan on this one. Everyone bitches about spam, but but the fact is, computer bits are much less intrusive than atoms.

7/23/2008 10:37 AM  
Blogger meesha.v said...

that's assuming that I somehow have to chose between various ways of political advertizing that's being forced on me:print,email, visual, TV,phone calls,etc. I feel that anything beyond non-intrusive advertizing i.e. billboard is uncalled for and in my house it gets thrown away,deleted, skipped over and otherwise ignored without consideration.

7/23/2008 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meesha represents the voice of those who don't want to know anything that can't be conveyed on a billboard. That's certainly his right, and that's why it is important for informed voters who do read and think to get out and vote.

7/23/2008 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found out that it was illegal to sell my vote, so I decided to give it away free with the purchase of my new book "LOOPHOLES".

7/23/2008 11:12 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

"Campaigns are fairly short-term enterprises."

That's pretty funny. Good one Dan.

7/23/2008 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about federal law; I'm referring to contractual agreements campaigns make with their ISP or list serve provider. Campaigns may be violating their contractual agreements.

Secondly, what if every campaign across the country started e-mailing you? Were it not for anti-spam forces out there, we'd be having to hit the delete key 1000 times a day.

Would you mind if every democratic (or republican) campaign across the US started e-mailing you?

7/23/2008 4:01 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

We put a test block on Kanga's cell phone as he was getting political messages from friends in the political world. They can call him if they want him. Just don't bother texting him.

Missed you at the Blogger Gathering.

7/23/2008 4:13 PM  
Blogger meesha.v said...

Actually I am not against billboards because they are easy to ignore. I didn't say I make a habit of reading them. On the other hand, if you make your voting decisions based on spam and junk mail and fancy yourself "informed" you are delusional. That's certainly your right...

7/23/2008 6:01 PM  
Blogger Bull E. Vard said...

You're completely for candidates inundating my inbox with political advertisements, yet you're completely for politicians doing the same thing. I fail to see a difference between the two parties. In fact I find it a little bit offensive that there can be such a double standard.

The public should have the same rights to free speech as politicians and it is shameful that you are trying to take the free speech high ground when 2 weeks ago you were advocating limiting the public's speech.

7/23/2008 7:53 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Bull - I'm sorry, and I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I have no idea what you are talking about.

7/23/2008 11:02 PM  
Anonymous PJ said...

I have yet to receive an email from a campaign that doesnt have an opt out link at the bottom. It's that simple.

7/24/2008 1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PJ -- the gold standard is confirmed opt-in, not opt-out.

Do you mind posting your e-mail address for other campaigns to get ahold of?

7/24/2008 4:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you saying that you find it acceptable for a campaign to sign up with this service and then violate its rules?

7/24/2008 5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd complain a lot less if one of the campaigns would admit from where they receive their list of addresses so that I could ask the source to remove me. The answer is "we received your address from someone" or some variation thereof.

7/24/2008 6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See paragraph 4 of

Are you suggesting that a campaign should sign up for Streamsend if they don't want to abide by that paragraph?

7/24/2008 6:47 AM  
Blogger Bull E. Vard said...

Sorry Dan, I was a little lazy and didn't post the link, so here it is.

7/24/2008 8:04 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Bull - I think I get it now. You're seeing some kind of conflict between my position that candidates ought to be able to communicate, and my position that they ought to eschew communicating through third party attack pieces. I don't see those two positions as conflicting.

7/24/2008 8:24 AM  
Anonymous PJ said...

all the campaigns already have mine. And I didnt opt-in on any of them. just popular I guess.

But it doesnt bother me and if I dont want to recieve them anymore, I opt-out.

I realize it's difficult for campaigns to reach active voters. If they want to send me an unsolicited email, it's fine by me.

7/24/2008 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Do you agree that campaigns ought not to sign up with companies that require opt-in if the campaign is not using an opt-in list?

7/24/2008 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7/24/2008 10:36 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Sorry - you lost my interest. I'm not a party to those contracts, and I presume you aren't, either. It's called "privity of contract" - look it up.

7/24/2008 10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone in this story is a bit to blame:

- the campaigns, the political parties, the political operatives, or whomever is passing around and receiving e-mail addresses of people who are not opting-in to specific campaign mailing lists

- the campaigns who are sending out bulk e-mail to people who did not opt-in

- the individual who is complaining -- leave it alone -- anti-spam activists will get around to this spam too

- those who excuse this as no big deal -- if it were not for the anti-spam activists, many more campaigns would be doing this, and you would have to unsubscribe or hit delete a lot more often. Spam is endangering e-mail as a communication medium.

- the mailing list hosting providers if they are not taking appropriate action against spammers when spam is brought to their attention.

Dan -- you brought up the issue, and it certainly is your right to get tired of it, but... what does privity of contract have to do with anything. Most bulk e-mail has in the messages or unsubscribe links instructions on how to report spam. So the mailing list providers bring the recipient into the equation.

7/26/2008 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan -- I understand concept of privity of contract -- but what does it have to do with anything?

7/31/2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

The commenter was asking about the issue of whether a contract might be violating terms of service concerning unsubscribe functions. My point is that the terms of the contract between a given candidate and his or her service provider are not something that gives rights to an email recipient.

7/31/2008 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think previous anon was asking as a practical, not legal, matter.

8/01/2008 6:39 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

As a practical matter, privity of contract means you don't have any rights under the contract between the candidate and his or her service provider. If the provider isn't complaining, who cares? As a practical and legal matter . . .

8/01/2008 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a practical matter, however, the providers that contractually prohibit unsolicited bulk e-mail are more likely to be open to complaints (and even have a complaint mechanism) from recipients of unsolicited bulk e-mail.

As a practical matter, unfortunately, the campaigns could find providers that don't react to such complaints.

It seems, as a practical matter, to be not a good strategy to pick a provider that has a certain policy and then not abide by that policy, when said provider invites the recipients to report violations of the policy.

8/02/2008 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8/03/2008 9:57 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I haven't seen any candidates get in trouble over this issue, because, as I wrote, spam policies are designed to prevent commercial speech, not political speech.

8/04/2008 5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe CAN-SPAM (federal statute) but not necessarily contracts with mailing list service providers.

8/04/2008 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Whistleblowme said...

Who knows what is in the contracts between the providers and the candidates, or what side agreements modify those contracts? That's why the concept of privity of contract is so helpful - it encourages you to mind your own business.

If a candidate is violating a contract with the provider, I suppose the provider has the right to end the relationship. That's between them.

8/04/2008 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you are pro-spam (if it is candidate generated)?

8/04/2008 8:31 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Go back, reread the post, and rephrase your question.

8/04/2008 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Survey: Who here is for unsolicited bulk e-mail from politicians, and who is against it, even if you are not in privity of contract between said politicians and their mailing list providers?

8/04/2008 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as I thought.

8/06/2008 10:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

it was a horribly flawed question - why would anyone bother answering it?

8/06/2008 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problem is: If it were generally socially acceptable for politicians to send unsolicited bulk e-mail, it would not be a question of opting-out from a few here and there. Instead, Democrats across the country would be e-mailing you. Do you want to have to opt-out of 100 lists a day?

8/07/2008 5:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Is that really a problem that you are having?

8/07/2008 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I said "if."

8/07/2008 7:53 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

The question is still flawed - I suspect that logic is not a strength of the anti-unsolicited email crowd.

Why would I need to unsubscribe to a hundred lists per day? Why would I not simply adjust my spam filters?

But, since you seem to think your hypothetical question deserves a hypothetical answer, then, here goes - No, I would not be pleased if somehow I were forced against my will to go through the steps of unsubscribing from a hundred lists per day, instead of coming up with better hypothetical ways of handling this hypothetical problem.

Thank God this isn't really a problem, right?

8/07/2008 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As better spam filters are built, spammers devise more clever spam (designed to avoid such filters).

8/09/2008 1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan -- I thought you lost interest in this thread on July 24? Why still posting?

8/10/2008 8:49 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

No, I never lost interest in the thread - I just lost interest in the questions about contracts neither of us are a party to.

8/10/2008 9:03 PM  

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