Privacy Matters

Posted March 26, 2003 at 5:28pm

As political campaigns and organizations turn increasingly to the Web to contact voters, raise money and get their messages out, a new survey offers both encouraging and sobering news.

Last fall, George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet queried 9,705 people nationwide who use the Microsoft Network about their Internet habits — and whether they use the Web to get information about campaigns or to participate in politics. MSN provided 10 million banner ads during a two-week period inviting people to respond.

The survey concluded that while there have been shining examples of the Web helping to boost political movements — Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign in 2000, for example, raised $6.4 million and recruited 142,000 volunteers online, and Moveon.org, the anti-war group, raised $1 million online in a 48-hour period last fall — there are still impediments to full utilization of the Web. Chief among them: citizens’ fears that their privacy will not be protected if they supply their e-mail addresses, credit card numbers and other data to campaigns via the Internet.

The good news: Almost one-third (31 percent) of all survey respondents said that they gave their e-mail addresses to campaigns online, and 11 percent said they have used the Internet to make credit card contributions to campaigns.

But that’s also the bad news. Sixty-nine percent of respondents were hesitant to give out their e-mail online, and 89 percent did not want to give out credit card information online. That presents a challenge to campaigns that rely on the Web to organize data about voters, supporters and volunteers.

“Campaigns are sort of like oystermen in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jonah Seiger, author of the study and an online campaign strategist. “We throw out our nets and we catch the fish. But if we dredge out the bottom, that would be disastrous for campaigning on the Web in the future.”

The survey respondents were also worried about whether their contacts with the political Web sites would result in more spam being sent to their e-mail addresses. According to studies, about 40 percent of all e-mail traffic is spam.

Seiger suggests that campaigns use the most sophisticated security software possible and outline their privacy policies in

a prominent place on their Web sites. Overall, though, the survey, he said, “shows that the investment that campaigns are making [on the Internet] is justified.”

Like Yeast. EMILY’s List, which has become the largest financial resource for women running for Congress and governor, has made two key hires.

Karen White will become national political director, and Chris Esposito will be director of campaign services.

White has worked in Maryland for the past four years, as campaign manager to then-Gov. Parris Glendening (D) in 1998, and subsequently in various senior roles in his administration. She directed the statewide coordinated campaign for the Maryland Democratic Party in 2002, and has also worked in Louisiana and Idaho.

Esposito joined EMILY’s List in 2001 as a political tracker. He has also been a regional political director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and was campaign manager for Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) in his first Congressional election.

Sheila O’Connell, who served as EMILY’s List’s political director for the past two cycles will continue to work as a consultant to the organization on a part-time basis.

Making an Impact. When Direct Impact, a grassroots campaign firm, announced last week that it was hiring Steve Schmidt (see Roll Call, March 24), the outgoing communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, it was part of a broader change in personnel that saw two staff people promoted and another political professional brought in.

Tom Benjamin and Mike Gibson have both been promoted to the position of executive vice president. Gibson, who heads Direct Impact’s field operations, will be executive vice president-field operations, and Benjamin, who is in charge of business and marketing initiatives, will be executive vice president-marketing and corporate strategy.

Also joining Direct Impact as a vice president is Vlad Cartwright, who most recently headed the Washington, D.C., office of the Edison Group, an Atlanta grassroots firm.

Direct Impact is a subsidiary of Burston-Marsteller, the public relations giant.

Hull Hires. Blair Hull, the wealthy Illinois businessman who is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in a crowded, competitive field, has added two seasoned staffers to his stable of talent.

Illinois native Sheila Nix, the chief of staff to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), will become Hull’s policy director in April. She was also a top aide, policy adviser and campaign operative for then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.).

Mo Elleithee will be the campaign’s communications director. He spent the 2002 election cycle in Florida, first as campaign manager to former Attorney General Janet Reno in her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, then as deputy campaign manager for the man who beat her in the Democratic primary, businessman Bill McBride. Elleithee has also worked for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), then-Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and former Sen. Bill Bradley’s (D-N.J.) 2000 presidential campaign.

Fighting Wellstone’s Fight. Allison Dobson, who was press secretary to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) at the time of his death last fall, is carrying the progressive mantle into her new job. She is now communications director for the 21st Century Democrats, a grassroots group dedicated to electing more liberal Democrats.

At the 21st Century Democrats’ annual dinner tonight, the group will hand out its first annual Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for Grassroots Organizing. It will also hand out awards to comedian Al Franken, American Indian activists from South Dakota and others.

Schweiker Aide Lands. Terrence Heubert, who ran the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Washington, D.C., office when Mark Schweiker (R) was governor, will become a federal affairs associate in the Washington office of Conkling, Fiskum & McCormick Inc., a Portland, Ore., firm.

Heubert was also a lobbyist for Pennsylvania under Schweiker’s predecessor, Tom Ridge (R). And while attending the Institute for European Studies in London, he served as an intern to British Conservative Party Leader Brian Oxley.

Cautionary Tail. No doubt you’ve read about the blizzard that crippled Denver last week. Well, a day after the storm hit, a dog saved a Denver pollster’s life.

According to The Denver Post, Carl Rossow, co-owner of Innovative Survey Research, usually gets to work at 8 a.m. But because his dog, Ginger, refused to, uh, heed nature’s call quickly in all the snow that morning, Rossow was late getting in. A good thing, too: At about 8:30 a.m., the roof of the building next door to Rossow’s office caved in under the weight of the snow, sending two tons of bricks crashing down on Rossow’s desk.

“When I went inside and saw my office, my first reaction was, ‘lucky we got the dog,’” Rossow told the Post.

There’s probably a moral here somewhere …