When politicians embrace the power of spam

Updated
Image: US-VOTE-2012-REPUBLICAN CONVENTION
Former candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 US presidential election Herman Caine speaks at a Tea Party Unity Rally at The River at Tampa Bay…
Photo by ROBYN BECK
As a notable Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain was able to pull together an email list of several hundred thousand people. His campaign obviously didn’t turn out well, but Cain eventually created an online media venture called Best of Cain, which continues to send out messages to former supporters on a wide range of topics.
 
How wide a range? Those on Cain’s mailing list recently received an alert with an all-caps subject line about a “breakthrough remedy” for erectile dysfunction. It was, of course, an ad – and a rather clumsy one at that. Cain supporters were told they were at risk of losing their loved one unless they got their “manhood mojo back.”
 
For many of us, it would appear as if Herman Cain has begun spamming Americans who supported his presidential campaign. But as Ben Adler reports in a fascinating piece, Cain and other Republicans believe they’ve come up with a lucrative business plan.
While [Caim] has been particularly unabashed in his embrace of the practice, he is not the only past presidential candidate hawking sketchy products. Newt Gingrich now pings the e-mail subscribers to his Gingrich Productions with messages from an investment firm formed by a conspiracy theorist successfully sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Huckabee uses his own production company’s list to blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.
 
The joke about Cain and Gingrich during the 2012 campaign was that they weren’t at all serious about their pursuits of the presidency but instead just lining up future paydays. After Huckabee, who’d parlayed a strong showing in 2008 into publishing deals and his own Fox News show, declined to run again, some wags snickered that his new livelihood must have been too hard to give up. Now all three seem to be proving the cynics right…. Collectively, Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee are pioneering a new, more direct method for post-campaign buckraking. All it requires is some digitally savvy accomplices – and a total immunity to shame.
There’s a reason I love this Chris Hayes comment from a while back: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”
 
One of the striking things about the ventures launched by Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee is the odd incentive dynamic they’ve helped create: political activities that used to be based on partisanship, ideology, and/or ego are now profit-making opportunities.
 
A Republican may not have any interest in actually becoming president, but he or she now knows that a presidential campaign can create a lucrative mailing list. So why not run anyway for the sake of future paychecks?
 
It’s not just elections, either. Last summer, for example, as conservatives prepared for their government shutdown, Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “[T]his is about political cash, not political principle.” Far-right groups were getting the base riled up, collecting contributions and email addresses, and weren’t especially concerned with the policy outcome.
 
More recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made the rounds on conservative media, talking up a possible lawsuit he might file against the NSA. In practice, the senator was encouraging interested Americans to visit his campaign website, submit their contact information, and chip in a donation while they were there. (The lawsuit he vowed to file hasn’t materialized.)
 
At the intersection of politics and profit is a Republican machine in search of email addresses, clicks, and cash. It’s not that conservative causes are irrelevant; it’s just that they’re hardly the only motivation for GOP players as interested in list-building as coalition-building.
 

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When politicians embrace the power of spam

Updated