Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 164
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for November 7, 2002

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

Gosh, I’m getting popular! Just this week, I’ve been called by President Bush, Charlton Heston, the AARP, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Barbara Bush (3 times!). Actually, it wasn’t really them, it was computers that dial up numbers and deliver a recorded message, generally on the U.S. Senate campaign. Who knows how many times I’d have been called if that phone line hadn’t been on-line on the internet so much?

Since political speech is particularly protected under the 1st Amendment, the “no call list” laws don’t apply to this type of call. A close relative of these calls is the “push poll” – it starts out like a regular political poll, then starts asking questions like “would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate x if you knew….” The questions about the candidate who commissioned the poll are always positives, while those about the opponent are negatives. . The calls are particularly targeted according to some demographic information, which could be age, organization membership, business licenses, socio-economic data from census information for an area, or even magazine subscriptions.

Handling these calls and similar direct mail pieces is big business. The mail pieces are slick; full color on heavy stock. The calls use celebrity names to keep voters from hanging up (doesn’t work for me). According to campaign spending reports filed at our county courthouse, a company hired by one of our legislative candidates was paid about $4700 for polling and $17,000 for direct mailings; I expect the other candidate was in the same spending ballpark.

The full campaign finance reports won’t be due until 30 days after the election. We may never know how much was actually spent, since outside groups backing local candidates don’t file in our courthouse. Even in a small legislative district, population about 32,000, candidates are severely limited in the number of voters who can hear their message in person, so they use direct mail. My main problem with the mailings is that my demographics must be pretty one-sided; I received at least 20 mailings backing Republican candidates and none supporting Democrats.

Oh, and all you celebrity callers? You wasted your time on the Senate race – I voted Libertarian.

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