Trickle Down Political Fundraising
July 7, 2004 6:05 AM   Subscribe

By the way, you'll earn 30% of each donation you bring in for the RNC. The people who brought you fun customized campaign posters return for an encore with an affiliate program for fundraising. Rather than relying upon real grassroots fundraising, why not just offer commissions to anyone who'd like to promote your candidate? Just how many ways can the Internet come up with to violate campaign finance law? Ready ... set ... link!
posted by bclark (20 comments total)
Rather than linking to the generic campaign finance law site, why not indicate directly which provision of the law this allegedly violates? As is, this post is no better than any conservative spew that does not bother to support its assertions.
posted by mischief at 6:32 AM on July 7, 2004

1) How exactly does this violates campaign finance laws?

2) Assuming it does not illegal, I cant really see anything wrong with this. It seems like a more efficient way to gather donations than giving away t-shirts and other crap (maybe republicans really do "understand" the internet.)

3) I wish you could still customize those posters.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 6:36 AM on July 7, 2004

(let: "does not" = "is not")
posted by Dr_Octavius at 6:38 AM on July 7, 2004

Mischief, it's not the affiliate program itself that violates campaign finance law ... it's all the numerous ways that an affiliate might choose to market it that could. Given that the affiliate program is currently set to auto-approve everyone who signs up, it stands to reason that those affiliates will most likely not even be aware that those laws apply to them. The affiliate program just launched yesterday, so people in the industry are still sorting through the implications.

Dr. Oct, your point 2 is an interesting one -- but given the problems that exist in affiliate marketing with spyware/scumware, it is one where the precidence doesn't look good. Affiliate marketing values results over the methods for producing them, which means affiliate managers must constantly police their own partner's tactics for producing that revenue. It seems the stakes are even higher when campaign finance law applies as well.
posted by bclark at 6:42 AM on July 7, 2004

Oh, and mischief ... I'm not asserting that the affiliate program violates campaign finance law (re-read my post), so I don't think I'm leaving any unsupported assertations there. My point is that once there are a few thousand commission-driven affiliates out there, we'll likely have an interesting list of activities that could be construed as violating those laws.
posted by bclark at 6:46 AM on July 7, 2004

Beginning your question with the word 'just' makes the implication that the question following it draws a possible conclusion from the preceding content. I was not the only person misled by your post.

given the problems that exist in affiliate marketing with spyware/scumware : What problems do you mean? You are still making allegations of some tenuous conspiracy (or other misadventure) but not providing any details of the basis, the procedures, nor the outcomes.
posted by mischief at 7:01 AM on July 7, 2004

As mischief cries out for someone to hold his hand and explain why affiliate programs have problems rather than looking it up himself.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:17 AM on July 7, 2004

Herbalife is another salient example of how an affiliate program can go bad.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:25 AM on July 7, 2004

What's wrong with this? Well, one big thing:

When you give money, you expect the people you give it to to actually get it.

Now, I wasn't born yesterday, and I know a little about the direct mail industry, so you needn't point out that contributions get wasted. But it is a trifle unusual for a political contribution to be a commission sales proposition. So people can't be expected to expect that 30% of what they give will not be going to their target.

Now, I suppose I should just let the GOP dilute its intake and screw its own stalwarts with this crap, but it is kind of offensive to me. And it does set a bad precedent.

Remember: Not everything that can legally be done, ought to.
posted by lodurr at 7:29 AM on July 7, 2004

it reminds me of this thing that i posted earlier, but that was all going to third-party groups.

All someone has to do with this is sign up as a porn site, alert the media, and watch the fun start. ; >
posted by amberglow at 7:32 AM on July 7, 2004

Mischief, my apologies if people were confused by my text -- I was attempting to connect the unexpected ways that people used the campaign poster generator to the potential unexepected ways that affiliates might end up using the "auto-approved" affiliate program.

You are still making allegations of some tenuous conspiracy (or other misadventure) but not providing any details of the basis, the procedures, nor the outcomes.

Only because I could write a book about them. A few examples then:

* recently, affililate technology provider Linkshare announced a winner for their "best affiliate" -- only to have to withdraw that award after it was revealed that the affiliate engaged in rampant cookie stuffing

* a recent article about research being done at Harvard regarding "adware" shows how companies like WhenU are serving up ads for major brands in ways that is drawing legislative and FTC attention -- it is common knowledge among affiliate communities that most of those deals are affiliate marketing ones

* much of the spam from brand name merchants are conducted under "cost per action" and "cost per sale" models powered by affiliate technology -- most of those brands don't even realize they've partnered with marketers who's lists are less than clean until the complaints start rolling in

I could bury you in more examples (and more specific "best practice" recommendations regarding the dangers of auto-approved affiliate programs) but the links above should lead you to more than you'd care to consume in one setting.

Please remember: my interest in this topic is as a marketing analyst, not as a political partisan (and my posting record shows how I tend to avoid most of the partisan threads here.)
posted by bclark at 7:33 AM on July 7, 2004

I'd just like to point out one of the essential elements of Common Law, on which our system of government is based, as opposed to Roman Law, Code Napoleon, and the now defunct Soviet Law.

"If something is not specifically illegal, it is legal."

This is just the opposite of those other legal systems, and something Americans and Britons look to with considerable pride as a hallmark of their liberties.

Ironically, it is liberal in the truest sense of the word, the belief that innovation in all things is the purview of the people, not the government. And even if that innovation is unfair, and the people themselves cannot equalize it, until it is specifically outlawed, the government cannot stop it.

The government has no right. Such a liberal concept.
posted by kablam at 7:36 AM on July 7, 2004

Nice non-sequitur kablam.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:42 AM on July 7, 2004

This makes me feel very uncomfortable initially. It just reeks and seems highly unethical.

I always try and be rational, however, so I've thought this over in my head and come up with my own analogy.

How is this any different than hiring a campaign staff and giving them incentive-based salaries linked to how much money they bring in? For instance, say you're John Kerry and you hire someone in Ohio to manage your campaign and you pay them based on how much money is contributed from that state?

I think the point bclark was originally trying to make was that your average, run-of-the-mill campaign managers are professionals who are aware of the campaign finance laws, but still manage to run afoul of them. This program automatically approves affiliates to raise campaign funds, when those affiliates may have no ideas what laws apply to them.

The question is, does this spell trouble for the campaigns themselves, or can the affiliates act as a diversionary tactic? Would the campaign would be responsible for any laws its affiliates broke? If the campaign is not responsible for what the affiliates do, then the affiliates could cause so much damage that the authorities couldn't keep up and the campaign gets away with it.

Remember, there is a time deadline here - the election. What happens before the election is all that matters at this stage. This sounds like a strategy of running interference.
posted by PigAlien at 8:06 AM on July 7, 2004

Kablam: And again, it's a good idea here to point out another basic principle of ethics -- very widely held:

That something is legal does not mean it's ethical.

It's legal (well, in most states) to screw around on your mate. But it's (at least arguably) not ethical.

Ethics, like law, are under a continual process of refinement and redefnition. This is not something I'd like to see redefined as ethical. Alas, in the modern Capitalist ethos, anything that can lead to greater profit for somebody eventually gets redefined as ethical...
posted by lodurr at 9:35 AM on July 7, 2004

One summer, I briefly worked as a canvasser for Public Interest Research Group, an organization affiliated with Ralph Nader. We were paid on roughly the same system: there was a quota, and we got to keep a percentage of any proceeds above the quota. I think it was 30%. I didn't stay for long because I basically suck at salesmanship even though I generally supported the cause.

The point I want to make is that this approach isn't something limited to the GOP. It's politics in money-driven America.
posted by Loudmax at 9:55 AM on July 7, 2004

Yeah, I experienced the same thing working for the DNC a couple months ago. (And ditto on the salesmanship thing; I wrote about it here. Self-link, obviously.)
posted by Tlogmer at 4:14 PM on July 7, 2004

lodurr: what you suggest is not un-ethical, it is immoral.

In popular American usage (not dictionary definition) "ethics" is adherance to the written law, both criminal and civil. For example, in popular usage screwing around on your mate is only un-ethical if you live in a State where adultery is unlawful, or is legal cause for divorce.

In those States where it's not illegal, and you require no reason for divorce, it is "ethical." It may be immoral as hell and could get you in trouble in any number of ways, but it is not "un-ethical." You haven't broken the law or cheated on a contract, *in that State*. (Think about the Supreme Court's 'local standards' decision about pornography.)

"Morality", again in popular American usage, is adherance to religious or spiritual laws and guidelines, that may or may not be parallel to the written laws of men. This is why Americans are apprehensive around politicians that spout how "moral" they are. Who knows what church or cult they belong to and what their particular shaman has determined should be the law, according to "God"?

A real world case is Orrin Hatch. If you are told that Orrin is "ethical", your first thought is that he is not 'on the take' and doesn't go around breaking the law. No problem. But if someone suggests that we should all live under Orrin's definition of "morality", we should all break out in a heavy sweat, and start doing research on what Mormons think about how we live *our* lives.

BTW, this is a very useful guideline for evaluating politicians. "Moral" ones often give fair warning that they intend to impose their morality on you, and unethical ones try to confuse morality and ethics, so they can break the ethical law while hiding behind their dual rejection of morality.
posted by kablam at 4:23 PM on July 7, 2004

(Addendum: it's worth mentioning that the per-donation quota was capped at $50.)
posted by Tlogmer at 4:30 PM on July 7, 2004

In popular American usage (not dictionary definition) "ethics" is adherance to the written law, both criminal and civil. For example, in popular usage screwing around on your mate is only un-ethical if you live in a State where adultery is unlawful, or is legal cause for divorce.

Complete nonsense. The dictionary very accurately reflects people's understanding and use of the word. That's how dictionaries get made. You are using the concept incorrectly, and making a double mistake in thinking everyone does the same thing. ludurr is correct: just because something is legal does not make it ethical in practice. For exaple, it is perfectly legal (and perfectly unethical) for professionals like physicians to take large gifts from entities such as pharmaceutical companies. Similarly, the practices described above may be legal, but they are completely unethical.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:44 PM on July 8, 2004

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