Politician sends spam, experiences consequences, news at 11


Over the weekend I’ve been seeing a number of over the top, hyperbolic blog posts about the Trump Campaign’s agency getting suspended from their ESP for spamming. Adestra suspended the Donald Trump campaign for “for committing some of the most egregious spamming in the history of the Internet in an effort to save his broke campaign.”
That quote about “most egregious spamming” is from some partisan website that is all about making Trump look bad.  I did actually laugh out loud reading most egregious. Let’s be real here. This incidence of spamming doesn’t even make it into the top 100 of the ones I know about. And it’s not like I’m particularly well up on who’s spamming what.
This really is business as usual in the email space and particularly the political email space. Political sender, be they special interest groups or politicians, are sloppy with permission and will send mail to any email address they get their hands on. I talked about this last week: Spam Filtering is Apolitical
The Trump campaign isn’t the first political campaign to send spam.  It wasn’t huge news in 2012, but the Romney campaign was doing some bad stuff with their email marketing. They were working with snowshoe spammers. They were listed on the SBL. They got cut off by their ESP.
While Spamhaus doesn’t keep historic records, I found a post from 2012 on the “Mainsleaze” about the Romney campaign / supporters and their use of spam as a campaign tactic. In the comments on that post a representative of Spamhaus says, “Entirely too many political operatives and some of those who work with them at ESPs feel entitled to ignore the usual rules and send opt-out bulk email to anybody they wish.” This is true, and something I’ve repeatedly mentioned on this blog.

The only reason Trump spamming should make news is because of potential FEC violations.  Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to US political campaign and campaigns are expected to do due diligence to remove foreign nationals from fundraising campaigns. Given that many of the foreign nationals were government officials who received email on their work accounts, it’s clear the campaign did nothing related to compliance with FEC regulations.
There is the possibility that email marketing laws were violated in other countries, too. Inside the US, CAN SPAM does not apply to political mail. Other countries, including Canada, also exempt political and or fundraising mails from their anti-spam laws.

Short version

Political campaigns send spam. Nothing new here.
Politicians send spam. Nothing new here.
ESPs have taken action against political senders before. Nothing new here.
Political email has been blocked before. Nothing new here.

What next?

Next, the Trump Campaign needs to find a new ESP. There are, of course, rumors flying around the industry about where he’s going to end up. I can see the campaign being a challenging customer to deal with. Not only have they been quite publicly caught spamming, but they’ve also lost a major ESP. These types of customers are challenging at the best of times. There is a lot of work to fix a problem list and get to the inbox.
On top of that, Return Path shows deliverability numbers that point to a list with very, very questionable permission. Any ESP who takes the campaign as a customer is going to have a significant amount of work to get this mail into the inbox. And, no, using a list validation service like the one RP is selling won’t do anything. List validation services remove undeliverable addresses. The problem is not that the addresses are undeliverable – they’re very deliverable. The problem is that too many recipients don’t want mail from Trump and never asked for it.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients with delivery stats this bad or worse. Some have been able to make the hard decisions necessary to get back to the inbox. Some … haven’t. It’s really hard to get rid of a high proportion of a list, even when that list is not performing. Fixing a list this bad can take months, and there’s just not time. The election is in 3 months. That’s not enough time to fix his deliverability problems, even if he found an ESP to take him on.

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  • I was thinking the other day about all the spam I get that isn’t sent by either candidate, but which is about one or another of the candidates.
    For a long time, the Trump-related spam I got was of the “How to be as smart as Trump” variety, but more recently has switched to subjects like “Has Trump Crossed The Line This Time?”. The Clinton-related spam, in the meantime, has tended toward subjects like “Liar, Liar, Pantsuit On Fire!”. I’m a registered Democrat, though I wouldn’t expect the spammers to know that.
    I don’t know what it means — probably nothing — but I thought it was interesting anyway.

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