Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign raised significant funds by renting its list to campaigns for lawmakers such as GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and GOP Senate candidates Carly Fiorina in California and Joseph DioGuardi in New York.
Several Republican candidates rented lists from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign since 2008, totaling more than $150,000, according to Federal Election Commission records. Some of these Republican campaigns that reported renting Romney's list include former Rep. Tom Feeney (Fla.), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.) and her husband, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), as well as Romney's leadership PAC, Free and Strong America PAC.
Some of the Congressional campaigns that are receiving the most money from selling their lists include those of Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.), with more than $273,000, and Sen. Al Franken (D–Minn.), with $91,000.
Kerry's staff clarified that the campaign limits the rental of its donor list "to like-minded organizations such as the DNC and DSCC" and points out that it provided only postal addresses, not emails.
"This is the best way of helping progressive organizations, and Democratic candidates — we rent the lists as opposed to giving the information because under the law, it would be considered an in-kind contribution and thus would be capped," Jodi Seth, Kerry's communications director, wrote in an email. "It also helps cover the overhead of maintaining our lists."
Kerry and Franken used an outside vendor — called a list broker — as a middleman to rent the contact information to other campaigns. The sale and management of these lists has brought in millions of dollars for organizations such as Pinnacle List Co., Preferred Communications and Legacy Lists Marketing.
These companies advertise on their websites available databases of donor information from a wide range of campaigns, including 7,300 contributors to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), 31,800 "active donors" to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 307,700 contacts from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A popular list broker for Republicans is Capitol Hill Lists in Georgia, which has paid $111,000 to Sen. David Vitter (La.), $83,000 to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and $45,000 to Sen. James Risch (Idaho) since 2009 for list information.
While renting these lists might be lucrative, privacy advocates say campaigns should inform potential contributors that they may sell their contact information to others.
"This wholesale trade in donor information violates people's privacy," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Coney said the public should be aware that list brokers are selling contact information to sources that range from political campaigns to magazines.
"We shouldn't have to give up our privacy just to exercise our right to political expression," said J. Bradley Jansen, director of the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights.
Jansen is against the distribution and rental of donor contact information. But instead of laying blame with the candidates, he said the problem can be traced to campaign finance disclosure regulations and court decisions ruling that Americans do not have an expectation of privacy from third parties.
Jansen's contact information was likely sold recently after making $2,100 in donations to Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) in 2007. FEC records show Paul later rented his donor list to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R), for $4,600 during his successful 2010 race in Kentucky.
But Jansen did not object to his name and others being rented by Paul's son, saying, "They are in the same family by blood and ideology."
Rep. Paul's staff explained that he has a policy of not renting his donor list but made an exception in this case with his son.