Tuesday, May 27, 2008 | The homepage for the website of Burbank-based Political Data Inc., a company that collates and provides information on California voters, has a message for political candidates, consultants and campaign managers:

“Think outside the mailbox! Think Email!”

It’s a message San Diego’s political establishment appears to have taken to heart. Campaign spam e-mails sent on behalf of San Diego mayoral candidates, City Council hopefuls and city attorney wannabes have been arriving, unsolicited in San Diegans’ inboxes for weeks. For the campaigns, it’s a quick, inexpensive way to reach potential voters.

Interviews with some of the recipients of those e-mails revealed mixed reactions to this relatively new electioneering tactic. Most of the spamees said the e-mails were minor nuisances, just another part of the election information snowfall to be brushed off with a swift keystroke.

But some recipients of campaign spam said the influx of e-mails had pushed them away from candidates who sent the unsolicited and unwanted communications. Frustrated by the barrage of platitudes and annoyed what they considered the underhandedness of some of the bulk e-mail marketing, some spamees said the messages were counter-productive and others wanted to know how candidates had got their e-mail addresses in the first place.

“It put a bad taste in my mouth,” said Fred Williams, who said he was spammed after sending City Council District 7 candidate Marti Emerald a policy-related question by e-mail. “My enthusiasm for the campaign has been destroyed.”

Williams said he’ll probably still vote for Emerald, but said he doesn’t appreciate the way his e-mail address was collected and stored on a database to be used for spamming purposes. He said it was especially galling that he never received an answer to the question he asked the City Council candidate in the first place.

That sentiment was echoed by Herbert Wohl, who said he doesn’t mind getting some of the election-related e-mails but that he objects to the way some of them are formulated. Wohl cited a recent e-mail he got from mayoral candidate Steve Francis as an example.

“If you scroll down, it says ‘you are currently subscribed to this e-mail,’” Wohl said. “That’s misleading, I never subscribed to anything and this is giving the impression that I volunteered to receive it.”

Francis and Council President Scott Peters, who is running for city attorney, have both been running significant e-mail marketing campaigns. Mary Anne Pintar, campaign manager for Peters, said e-mail is a cost-effective, swift way to communicate with pre-selected groups of voters.

The Peters campaign has been conducting its e-mail marketing through Political Data, Inc., Pintar said. The campaign first decides on a message to communicate to voters, then sends that message on to PDI, which sends out a bulk e-mail to a targeted audience in San Diego, she said.

She said the marketing campaign has been well-received, or, at least, not badly received.

“The number of people who have written back saying ‘I’m really sick of getting your e-mails,’ is very minor compared to the number of messages we’ve sent out,” Pintar said.

Jim Hayes, president of Political Data Inc., said his company buys lists of e-mail addresses from private data-collection companies. Those companies, in turn get the e-mail addresses and other data about individuals from online registration forms and commercial websites. By cross-referencing those lists with voter registration records from San Diego County, Hayes said, his company can target specific audiences in local markets.

Hayes said e-mail election marketing has been around for about three or four years, and that it’s a relatively small part of what his business does. Compared to direct-mailing, e-mail marketing is still a niche tactic, Hayes said.

And Hayes said e-mail electioneering is not a booming industry despite the huge growth in internet-based communication in recent years.

“As its potential has grown, the methods of stopping these e-mails has also grown,” Hayes said.

As voters become savvier about giving out their primary e-mail addresses and spam filters become increasingly sophisticated, fewer of the e-mails sent out actually reach their target audience, Hayes said.

And, according to local spamees, even when those e-mails do reach a voter’s coveted inbox many messages are simply ignored or given just a fleeting glance.

Leslie Flint, a San Diego lawyer, said she has received many election-related e-mails about races she has no interest in. She said she’s been particularly inundated with Francis campaign messages, most of which have ended up in her junk mail folder.

And did the messages tell her anything she didn’t know about Francis?

“I knew his name, but I wasn’t sure if he was running for city attorney or mayor,” Flint said, laughing. “Now I know he’s running for mayor, but I didn’t learn that from his e-mails, I didn’t read that far down.”

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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