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Just letting you know your neighbors’ political contributions

Just letting you know your neighbors’ political contributions

Ann Althouse (via Instapundit) has a post about a mailer she received from a pro-Recall group in Wisconsin telling her which of her neighbors voted and which did not in the past several years.  Althouse’s reaction:

This is an effort to shame and pressure people about voting, and it is truly despicable. Your vote is private, you have a right not to vote, and anyone who tries to shame and an harass you about it is violating your privacy, and the assumption that I will become active in shaming and pressuring my neighbors is repugnant.

Not voting is a valid choice. If you don’t have a preference in the election, don’t vote. If you think no one deserves your vote, don’t vote.

This may be the most disgusting thing I have ever received in the mail.

A few days ago a reader sent me a mailer he received telling him the political contributions of his neighbors.  He wrote:

Professor Jacobson:

I got a mailer, claiming to be part of an authorized study project at your alma mater, Harvard University, listing some of my political donations along with some of my neighbors’ donations. The point of the study is not really explained in the email, but the point seems to be whether veiled threats influence future donations. In California and other places as well, the Left has a history of using this information to harass and intimidate private citizens. The examples associated with Prop 8 are too numerous to list.

My wife was furious when she read the mailer, and I think she correctly interprets its contents as a threat, especially with the reminder that “Access to the data is anonymous”.

I am attaching cleaned up scans of the mailer. This is a little old as the mailer was dated April 25, but I just ran across this when going through my junk mail pile. My apologies if you’ve seen this already.

[in a follow up e-mail] I did a couple quick google searches on the researchers involved, Ricardo Perez-Truglia and Guillermo Cruces, and neither one has shown any prior interest in voter behavior or political contributions.

Here’s the inside of the mailer with names and donations obscured by the reader:

Althouse reports that a reader sent her a similar mailer, although it appears to be different readers based on the information in the mailer.  Alhouse also indicates there is an unclear history to the group behind this.

Here’s the website of the group.  I have e-mailed them for more information, and will report what I hear back.

In the meantime, welcome to the new world of data-mining for political purposes.  Whether it outrages you or not, get used to it.

Update:  A reader forwarded this academic study showing that voter turnout is increased by using the types of mailers Althouse received about neighbors’ voting habits.


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alan markus | June 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Whether it outrages you or not, get used to it.

Last year here in Wisconsin, the anti-Walker group disseminated boycott lists against certain businesses because some of their employees had donated to Walker.

Hopefully, someday (soon, I hope) the climate will be such that some legislative changes can be made. No need to list your occupation/employer (I’m not even sure it is a violation to state “none”); maybe anonymous up to a certain amount, etc. As former Senator Feingold said to his fellow Democrats in Wisconsin (re Scott Walker), “it’s not over until we win.” Wouldn’t it be a hoot if that statement along with the antics of the Democrats in WI were used to repeal the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act?

Johnny on the spot!, Professor.

My work here is done.

My work in the yard beckons…

    Browndog in reply to Browndog. | June 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm


    I see Volokh just hit it too-

    love you lawprof blogs!

    OcTEApi in reply to Browndog. | June 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Inbox Influence provides details on any entity in the body of the email, plus information on both the sender of the email and the company from which it was sent. With it, you can even see how your friends and family have given to political campaigns. Perhaps Uncle Joe has more mainstream views after all?

    Inbox Influence is solely a product of the Sunlight Foundation.

“…welcome to the new world of data-mining for political purposes..”

As someone who has worked for decades in the IT industry, played an instrumental role in getting a ballot proposal on the ballot and getting that initiative passed with the aid of data-mining, who has also supported critical patient information systems in the healthcare industry.

Data-mining for political purposes is not new or necessarily illegal, just as being in possession of anyone’s personal information is not a crime.

Its not a crime until a person or group steps over the threshold in using that data for illegal purposes.

    not a crime until…

    which is the point of the “study”. Since all access to your data, including your address, is anonymous, ANYONE with ANY MOTIVE can access your data with no fear of being traced. And, if bad things started happening at your house or to your car parked in the driveway, there would be no way to see if the perpetrators found you via the FEC website.

    The mailer is not just talking to people who contribute. It’s talking to people who might be motivated to do something about those evil Republicans in their midst.

      OcTEApi in reply to OCBill. | June 3, 2012 at 9:54 am

      OK Bill, its my assumption these flyers were sent to conservatives who received “My First and Last Name Here” info about supposedly their donations to Republicans, and where they are informed about publicly accessible data about possible neighbors who have donated to Democrats.

      My assumption may be wrong about these flyers being sent to conservatives and your assumption that dissemination of publicly available data is a precursor to criminal acts against conservatives may be wrong as well. Period.

      And, if bad things started happening … would it be the fault of the individual or society?
      Does your neighbors group associations stir up feelings that will inevitably lead to violence and/or harassment?

      If so, you may be buying into the liberal canard that you might need protection under hate crimes legislation.

        The “study” mailer was sent to Democrats and Republicans. But, again, what is the purpose of sending the mailer?

        – The “study” only notifies the recipient that they are being studied.
        – The “study” asks no questions.
        – The “study” says there will be no further contact.
        – The only real information in the mailer for the “study” is to inform the recipient how easy it is for ANYONE to see a record of their donations along with their name and address.

        The only point of the mailer is to let the recipient know they are being studied, or should I use the word, “watched”. And if one group can watch, who knows who else might be watching?

Out of idle curiosity, a year or so ago, I entered my name, city and state in a search engine and found myself listed (full address) on a website as a donor to Michelle Bachman (true). Interestingly, that site contained the amounts of the only on line donations I’d made. Since then. I donate ONLY by check. It’s much easier to capture electronic data, whereas somebody has to laboriously key in details of donations by check.

It was my understanding that their faith inclined them to perceive humans as simian derivatives. They seem more predisposed to treat us as lab rats. No wonder they think we are interchangeable and disposable, from conception to grave.

I googled several old acquaintances years ago and found ENORMOUS amounts of information about them on-line.

It was at that point that I realized how little privacy we had left.

Think about the amount of information will be on-line about you in a few years. All those webcams all over the place. Tagging photos. GPS data from cell phones, coordinates from cell phone pictures. Drones overhead constantly.

At least we won’t need to feel lonely…

Personally, I don’t mind this.

If I’m not willing to stand behind my beliefs and endorsements – publicly even – then maybe I should re-evaluate just why I’m doing it.

However, if somebody of a different political persuasion wants to ‘intimidate’ me because of my beliefs – or who I support – well, I suspect they’ll wish they hadn’t.

    Browndog in reply to jimg. | June 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Then again, it’s not about you, is it?

    It’s about your neighbors.

    Hence, I have a problem with you not having a problem with it.

There is a reason for secret ballots. This data mining undermines the whole reason for secret ballots. If my neighbors and maybe enemies of the other side of the political divide decide to harass me for my donations then that will make me inclined not to donate.

Personallu I have change my habits to paying everything in cash. MAKE MY ACTIVITIES HARDER TO TRACK.

BannedbytheGuardian | June 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm

As I see it Americans are quite open about who they side with. It does not appear to me to be something that was designed to hide.

The fact that when registering to vote one is required to tick D R or I is quite unusual worldwide.In most countries it would be against the law to require a public declaration but it is what it is in the US.

The donation issue is not surprising. I would like to see some figures for the whole Taxpayer costs for an election ( splitting with the costs for the states for state elections ).

Plus the total Party donations . (The SuperPacs are another issue.)

As a means of comparison the Taxpayers handed over $160 million for the Australian federal election in 2010. $93 million was donated to Political Parties.

So a quarter of a billion dollars. Multiply that by 11 -14.5 million voters vs 160 million – & that comes to a total of under $3 billion .

Look at the big picture -are we/you getting value for the $$?

BannedbytheGuardian | June 2, 2012 at 9:34 pm

BTW I nor anyone I have ever known has donated a cent to a political party . It is just not done here.

The Labor Party threatens to kill Unions if they don’t hand over the $$ & the “conservatives’ fleece businesses for unstated & undelivered influence.

I think we would vomit if a politicianor political party sent us donetion requests.

mickydennis | June 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Here in Georgia I also received the mailer from the “Harvard researchers” with my recent political contributions and those of my neighbors, identified only by their initials. I suspected intimidation was the true intent. Therefore I am going to email my intention to contribute far more this year to the Republican candidate. I’m glad someone is looking into this, since I was unsure who to complain to.

There should be a way to turn around the documents that show the voting patterns. For example, shouldn’t the municipal clerks send out something like that to prune the voting roles? Or True the Vote could do it.

The clear intent of this “study” is to intimidate. It is the rough equivalent of “Nice little house and family you have there.” They leave out the “be a shame if anything were to happen to them” part because that would be a little too blatant. The intent however is the same.

What study asks no questions? What study only sends an announcement of the study and then promises no further contact?

The purpose of the study is to remind/inform people that their contributions are NOT anonymous, and that ANYONE can see your donation history along with your exact street address, etc. They also make the point that ANYONE can access your information anonymously.

In Calfifornia, I personally know two different families who had their yards vandalized for having Prop 8 signs in front. There was also a well-documented case of a man who donated to Prop 8 having his business boycotted until he had to close.

Like Hitler’s National Socialists, many among the Progressive movement are not averse to using violence and intimidation in service to their “greater good”.

The people who are running this Harvard “study” know that only one side has reason to fear violence from the other, and their study is designed to sow the seeds of fear. THAT is what they will study, whether those receiving the intimidating mailer are more or less likely to contribute in the future.

    OcTEApi in reply to OCBill. | June 3, 2012 at 10:24 am

    I have several neighbors who are now sporting Gadsden flags in addition to their American flag…

    I have to admit I’m inclined to tip my hat and say:
    “Nice little house and family you have there” if I see them around.

    I also have public access to the personal information of the 76 individuals in my town of 50,000 who are listed on the sexual offender registry which I’m not inclined to be specifically interested or do/say anything if I see them around…. because that would be a little too blatant.

    … I personally believe liberalism is a mental disorder and the scourge of he planet, I stop short in believing its a necessarily terminal disease or the face of evil.

Honestly, I don’t understand a voter’s name, address and political affiliation are posted at the door of poling places in CA. That’s how it’s done, apparently. But I’m a registered Republican who doesn’t want it advertized.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to edgeofthesandbox. | June 3, 2012 at 1:39 am

    I can imagine American election scrutineers gasping at that pinned onto a Kazakhstan voting booth & screaming “intimidation’.”Dictatorship’ “Flawed !!!lection’.

    But back home it is just another sign of Freedom.

How can it be ethical to do this, since we know what happens when we let people know other people’s political donations? Which is just one of my issues with the study.

[…] least I hope so.) But out here in New York, Professor Jacobson brings us a tale of people receiving even more disturbing mailings. A few days ago a reader sent me a mailer he received telling him the political contributions of […]

[…] Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson (via Jazz Shaw at Hot Air) tells of another even more creepy tactic. The Left is now revealing to friends and neighbors to which political candidates you have contributed. […]

Ricardo Perez-Truglia is a graduate student in Economics at Harvard…is this his dissertation research project?

Seems kind of weird; it doesn’t look like an economic study. In fact it doesn’t look like a study at all, unless the goal was to see how many recipients would follow up and visit the web site. What kind of researcher contacts people without asking for data??

It’s impressive that he got this study design approved by his advisory committee…unless of course they know nothing about it. Harvard doesn’t give a lot of oversight to its graduate students, they are pretty much free range (I speak from experience). Is there an Institutional Review Board (i.e, ethics review) approval number for this project? Big projects that involve contacting the public in Harvard’s name require an IRB review.

Speaking of ‘nice little house you got there’, it would be a shame if this person were using his Harvard affiliation to promote a personal political project. I rather suspect the university knows nothing about this.

If they were curious, someone could call up the Econ Dept, read the letter, and then request the IRB number on this project.

Here is Truglia’s web page: