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Friday, June 06, 2008


Although this might be old news to some, the subject deserves new perspective from an insider that understands just what was going on when John McCain used his mailing list as collateral for a bank loan earlier this year. The insider is me, with 35 years as a junk mail list/data broker selling mailing lists of consumers—and in this case, contributors—along with their personal data to business and political campaigns. Richard Viguerie—you never call him Dick—started the political genre in Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital, with his conservative agenda, and a knack for putting together fundraising mailings.

I was working for a now defunct company in Washington that had several clients in the philanthropic area, including some politicians and political parties. We managed client contributor lists, and collected a 10 percent commission for this function, which included promoting and advertising the lists to the junk mail list/data broker community. In many cases the company also acted as the list/data broker and could collect another 20 percent commission.

That’s right. One building, one person, and literally one transaction could gross the firm a total of 30 cents on every dollar of revenue. If you were greedy you took it. If you had a conscience—which I managed to develop along the way—you negotiated the commission down. Political lists today sell for around 10 cents per name as a base rate, 17.5 to 20 cents base with e-mail address, but the cost just goes up from there.

The candidate would want to select a party, and the fact they have a credit card and made a minimum donation amount. Donor’s age might be important, their income, whether they own their home, and if they respond to junk mail. Telephone number would be a must, and marital status for the family approach. Add it all together and you tack another 10 cents on, which, if you are talking about e-mail lists—and most candidates are—totals 30 cents for each name, or as we say in the business, $300 per thousand names. The industry average is around 15 cents a name or $150 for a thousand names.

Earlier when John McCain’s campaign was in dire financial straits, it borrowed money from its bank using its mailing list as collateral. In a Jan. 9, 2008 article on Politico, McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, said “The windfall from selling or leasing such a list was sufficient to get them their cash.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. The next day, Politico posted another piece, “McCain loan could violate donor privacy,” because the candidate’s privacy policy clearly stated the donors’ names would not be sold. In all likelihood it won’t be sold or shared until the November election, but after that, the potential is astronomical in future conservative causes.

I don’t know how many donors McCain has collected, but Mike Huckabee, an earlier competitor and now possible running mate, amassed a file of 3.2 million names while he was running. If McCain hasn’t equaled that, there is something wrong with his strategy.

Here’s the math on 3 million donor names selling at 30 cents per name. First of all, we narrow the file down to its best donors which would probably net 1.5 million names. One turn of the list grosses $450,000 dollars. But the number of times it could be sold in the period of a year is between 25 and 50 times. Let’s be “conservative” and say it is sold 35 times. The gross revenue for one year could reach as much as $15,750,000.

Now you know why John McCain is still in the race for president.

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