CAN SPAM And Politicians

Dear Email Diva,

I was recently introduced to someone who creates Websites and assists political candidates with their email campaigns. He disclosed to me something that struck me as incredibly wrong:. When legislation was passed prohibiting spam, the politicians responsible discreetly exempted themselves from this rule.

What are the rules for political emailing? My acquaintance has seen candidates get tossed from responsible providers for bending the rules (using lists that were not entirely opt-in). Do recipients have to accept that appearing on a voter registration list means they're subject to spam from candidates they're not interested in hearing from again and again without recourse?

And, perhaps most important, shouldn't we as an industry be pointing the spotlight on this behavior (if he's indeed correct in his information)? Poor behavior such as this damages the public perception of email marketing for all of us with respect to recipient control over the inbox.

For obvious reasons, I prefer to remain,

Deep Throat



Dear Deep,

While the Email Diva is not a lawyer (but would be happy to play one on TV), my reading of the Federal Trade Commission's CAN SPAM Act and the proposed rule changes uncovered no specific exclusion for political candidates or parties. The Federal Communications Commission (the FCC, not the FTC), however, mentions an exemption for "non-commercial messages, such as messages about candidates for political office" from its ban on email messages to mobile phones.

Even though the FTC doesn't specify an exemption for "messages about candidates for political office," the candidates may believe their messages are "non-commercial." Or perhaps elected officials feel they aren't likely to be prosecuted by the folks whose budgets they vote on.

In any event, a review of the political emails in the Email Diva's inbox shows full compliance with CAN SPAM. Perhaps fellow Email Insider Bill McCloskey could give us a more comprehensive report.

If there are abusers, it seems the industry is doing some self-policing. As you point out, they have been "tossed from responsible providers for bending the rules." Bravo for ESPs that are upholding high standards. As for the candidates, being seen as a spammer could certainly be damaging to a political campaign. After all, it was the desire to please voters that lead to CAN SPAM in the first place.

To the non-spamming politicians who share my views,

Good Luck!

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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