Politicos Use Email To Get Out The Vote and Rake In the Cash

Bush-Cheney '04 campaign email registrants received an open letter in their email inboxes yesterday from Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman addressed to Kerry Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill. In response to controversy over apparent Bush-bashing that occurred onstage during a recent Kerry-Edwards campaign fundraiser, Mehlman assured Cahill that "Bush-Cheney '04 pledges to refrain from using audio, video or transcripts of the event for any television, cable, satellite or radio advertising," were they made public.

While those media Mehlman lists still dominate in political campaigns, the Internet and email are gaining ground rapidly. As did the Kerry campaign's recent use of email to announce the John Edwards selection, Mehlman's email missive represents the growing importance of email in political communications. Email is becoming an indispensable tool to relay immediate political messages, get out the vote, and, of course, rake in the cash.

"Email is now dwarfing what we're doing in online advertising," says Roger Stone, President and CEO of political consultancy Advocacy Inc. His company is matching voter registration data to email addresses to promote automated absentee ballot programs and voter registration programs on behalf of his clients. Once appended, individual records could include names, physical and email address, party affiliation, voting history, age, gender, ethnicity and even marital status.

"There's a huge push this year to get as many people to vote early by mail as possible," explains Stone. He alludes to plans by state parties, and advocacy groups to send pre-filled absentee voter applications to members. His clients will also send emails linking to pre-filled voter registration applications to people in specific geographic locations and demographic groups such as single women, a big focus of Democrats this year.

Easing voter registration is one thing driving the use of email by political campaigns. Money is another. "The dollars Kerry's raising have got folks scratching their heads saying, 'What is going on here?' " observes Al DiGuido, CEO of email marketing company, Bigfoot Interactive. His firm has been hired to append voter registration data to email addresses by Plus Three, a technology outfit working for the Democratic National Committee.

In the first three days since publicly anointing Edwards, the Kerry campaign raised $3.3 million over the Internet, compared to the $12 million the campaign collected via the Web in June, according to a July 12 AP report. Most of Kerry-Edwards campaign emails, like most of all emails sent by political campaigns and advocacy groups, feature links to donate online.

Other presidential campaigns, including those of Ralph Nader, Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik, as well as the Green Party's Cobb-LaMarche ticket enable people to sign up for campaign emails on their sites.

The fiscally focused non-profit organization, Club for Growth, solicits donations from its members via email "all the time," according to Web Director Andrew Roth, who says the group has email addresses for about 8,000 of its 20,000 members. The group sends emails about fiscal issues, related legislation and favored candidates about once every two weeks, and plans on increasing email frequency to about once per week as the election grows nearer. Club for Growth is also considering emailing non-members in certain demographic groups and regions to request donations.

"The trick is to divert money from direct mail to the Internet," says Roth, who thinks the group can attract "an enormous amount of new members" through Internet advertising and email. Yet he hesitates, "whether they contribute is another thing."

Those who registered to receive emails from Wesley Clark during his unsuccessful Democratic presidential primary run were sent email messages last week on behalf of anti-Bush voter mobilization project America Coming Together (ACT), according to ACT's Director of Online Strategy, Thomas Gensemer. The group aimed to bolster its list of 75,000 online supporters to whom it sends locality-focused and issue-specific email messages each week.

"There's a growing anxiety about the block of voters out there not being reached by TV, billboards and print," says Bigfoot Interactive's DiGuido. He calls them "the e-voting public," and contends that reaching them through the Internet and email "could be the tipping point during the election."

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