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In Pennsylvania, an email broadcasting effort gone awry

It's really pretty simple, actually. Don't use government funds to do political campaign work.

From Philly.com:

Over more than two years, as they toiled in the minority, Democrats in the state House allegedly purchased millions of e-mail addresses to send campaign-related propaganda to Pennsylvania voters who were stuck paying the political tab - $1.2 million.

And that's not including several hundred thousand more in public funds that went to a tech consultant - the son of a state representative - who allegedly made it all look like a legitimate legislative endeavor.

Details of the conspiracy were laid out recently in the 74-page grand-jury indictments against a dozen Harrisburg insiders in what has become known as Bonusgate.

As usual with these things, it started with the best of intentions:

Initially, according to the indictment and sources familiar with the effort, organizers hoped to obtain e-mail addresses from people logging on to House Web sites and signing up for electronic updates. Few people did, however.

So House Democrats started paying an outside vendor for e-mails collected by various means.

Between 2003 and 2005, House Democrats purchased millions of such addresses for their blast e-mail effort, costing taxpayers $1.2 million, the indictment alleges.

On its face, it seemed like wasteful spending, perhaps - but legal. But prosecutors say it was all a ruse.

It's less about email broadcasting, and more about a misuse of funds - though the fact that it was email made it easier to cover up.

The first test of the system came during a 2005 special election for a House seat in the Lehigh Valley.

Buxton testified that for that race, he rented a server from a company located in Michigan "to hide the fact that these campaign e-mails were being sent from the taxpayer-owned caucus computer system in the Capitol," according to the grand jury's findings.

Buxton also designed the campaign e-mails to state that they were being paid for by the House Democratic Campaign Committee "to disguise the fact that these were actually a product of taxpayer resources." ...

In 2006 alone - the year that Democrats won back control of the House - state-paid aides crafted more than 300 campaign e-mails from Democratic offices inside the Capitol, which Buxton then blasted to voters.

Even so, prosecutors said, Veon, Manzo and others weren't completely satisfied with the speed in which Buxton was cranking out the campaign product. So, as the general election in November 2006 approached, they brought in another consultant. That firm was paid $82,550 in taxpayer funds, and, again, it was for campaign work, prosecutors said.


Posted on July 28, 2008 in email strategy, legal stuff | See full archives