Get ready for election spam

An 'Internet loophole' in elections laws means that individuals and groups can anonymously underwrite massive spam campaigns.

As election season kicks into high gear, get ready for a lot of political spam. As in a lot,says the Washington Post. A "potentially breathtaking" Internet loophole in election spending regs means that wealthy people can pour unlimited funds into Internet politicking without having to disclose identities or how much they're spending.

Purveyors of private e-mail addresses and designers of campaign Web sites report that their businesses are booming this year as partisans take advantage of an exemption in election rules that allows wealthy individuals to pour unlimited sums into Internet communications without having to disclose their identities or total expenditures.

"It provides an enormous opportunity for political campaigns," said Max Fose of Integrated Web Strategy, which sells e-mail addresses to political campaigns.

Enormous opportunity or enormous spam? "I can't imagine this will be a particularly effective method of getting out the vote," noted consultant Jim Jordan. "It is spam after all, and there are few things that annoy us more than spam."

Carol C. Darr, director of the nonpartisan Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, foresees "a complete free-for-all" because of the loophole. She added: "Sure, the FEC may still regulate the nickel-and-dime stuff. But . . . in the Hundred Years War against political money, big money has won."

When the Federal Elections Commission in March approved rules to leave hands off cyberspace, it was widely hailed by the blogging class as a victory for free speech. The Post's story today suggests there are substantial unintended consequences (perhaps they weren't unintended by the FEC, however) to supposed victories.

Advocacy Inc.'s Roger Alan Stone ... explained in a note to clients and associates why he is expecting a surge in revenue: "A wealthy individual could purchase all of the e-mail addresses for registered voters in a congressional district . . . produce an Internet video ad, and e-mail it along with a link to the campaign contribution page," he wrote. "Not only would this activity not count against any contribution limits or independent expenditure requirements; it would never even need to be reported."

Stone said that he is in discussions with representatives of wealthy individuals as well as state party officials about expanding their use of e-mails this year. He has contracted with at least three wealthy groups that e-mailed massively for primary campaigns this month.

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