Oxendine & Sheffield: The Truth Shall Set You Free

When I wrapped up my post last night I was convinced that the John Oxendine campaign had shared their e-mail list with the Maria Sheffield campaign. Like I said in my post last night after researching the connections between John Oxendine and Sheffield’s campaign manager, as well as Maria Sheffield herself, it was bluntly obvious that some back scratching was occurring.

This afternoon, I received an e-mail response from Kathryn Ballou, Maria Sheffield’s campaign manager. Her response was rather long-winded (who am I to talk about people being long-winded) but she answered my question, honestly.

This will be my final post on this issue. I believe, after receiving the response from Mrs. Ballou that the issue has been resolved, and my original inquiry has been addressed, albeit with some snarky responses and a whole lot of political mumbo-jumbo thrown in to boot.

First, here is the original inquiry that I sent to Kathryn Ballou.

Hi Kathryn,

My name is Michael Barrett, and I have a question regarding the mail list for Maria Sheffield’s campaign.

On February 5th, I received two emails from the Sheffield campaign. I never signed up for, nor did I consent to receive any email from the Sheffield campaign, and I would like to know how my addresses got on your list.

Did you get the list from another candidate by chance?

Please let me know as soon as possible, as I would like to get to the bottom of this.

Michael T. Barrett
Temple, GA

When I sent that e-mail I was already convinced that the Oxendine campaign had released the e-mail addresses to the Sheffield campaign. While Kathryn didn’t come out and say she received any list from the Oxendine campaign she left that possibility wide open in her response.

Michael, thanks for contacting the campaign – I appreciate anyone who takes the time to get back to the campaign regardless of the issue. I have to give a dig back to you (and I say this good naturedly) about this email, though – it went to my gmail account and not the one we have on record with the campaign. I could ask where you received my gmail account as I can identify everyone who has it – I assume someone has forwarded it on to you. Just the way it works sometimes :>)…

We are fortunate that Maria has worked with the industries regulated by the Department of Insurance for 15 years and the Republican Party for 20+ years. During this time, she has kept a database of all of her contacts and has a nice size base upon which we have built. Unfortunately, we do not have the base several of our opponents do.

We have made a huge effort to build upon this database in the past 6 months by asking associates, friends and supporters for their group lists, copying emails from messages that were sent out and the recipients were not blind copied (several campaigns have sent out emails without blind copying their lists), obtaining lists from groups that Maria is a member of or has spoken to, researching all sorts of media contacts as well as any and every blog which has any political bent, business sources, etc.

I am not going to go into detail of where we look as you may be supporting one of our opponents, but assume they are using the same resources. It is not difficult to find the resources, just time consuming.

There are 2 types of candidates. Those who do the research and reach out to as many voters as possible and those who rely on special interests and Capitol contacts. Maria makes no apologies for being a candidate who puts a high priority on listening to and communicating with voters. Often, this is done via email. With all due respect, the campaign reached out to you, and by so doing demonstrated respect for you as a Georgia voter. The campaign followed standard, social protocol by installing a user friendly opt out link.

In the only email we have sent to date, Maria received fewer than 100th of a percentage point of people choosing to opt out. If you would like to opt out as well, please let me know and we will delete you from our database. I see you are in Temple and I appreciate that you are a Georgia voter. If you have not already chosen a candidate in this race, I hope you will at least read our materials and consider Maria.

Kat

Before I write about some of the finer points of her response, here is the response I sent back to her this afternoon.

Good afternoon Kathryn,

Thank you for responding to my inquiry. What started as a simple inquiry into why two e-mail addresses which I have never used for any other political e-mail list other than John Oxendine’s campaign were added to Maria Sheffield’s e-mail list has turned into quite the adventure of deception and deflection. I appreciate your attention to this matter, and I also appreciate your explanation which answered my question without being deceptive nor deflecting from my original inquiry.

All I wanted was a response from either campaign which answered my question, how did my two e-mail addresses wind up in Sheffield’s database? Thank you again for answering my question. Although your response was very political in nature and a bit long-winded, you answered my question and removed any doubt that the Oxendine e-mail list was shared with the Sheffield campaign.

I received your gmail address from someone connected with the Republican Party of Georgia. I had mentioned my e-mail concerns to them and they offered me your address in confidence that you would be able to address the issue directly. I have worked on many political campaigns over the years and I know that contact addresses on the candidate’s website don’t always go to, nor are they always read by, the campaign manager. My contact wanted to make sure my concerns were addressed as quickly as possible and reached you directly, which is why they offered your gmail address. Also, (tongue in cheek) it’s a little bit different obtaining an e-mail address of the campaign manager for a political candidate as opposed to mining two private e-mail addresses from another candidate’s database.

Thank you again for your response,

Michael T. Barrett
Temple, GA

I know she mentioned the e-mail address issue “good naturedly”, and I addressed that in my response to her, so let’s move on with everything else she had to say. Let’s start with that third paragraph.

We have made a huge effort to build upon this database in the past 6 months by asking associates, friends and supporters for their group lists, copying emails from messages that were sent out and the recipients were not blind copied (several campaigns have sent out emails without blind copying their lists), obtaining lists from groups that Maria is a member of or has spoken to, researching all sorts of media contacts as well as any and every blog which has any political bent, business sources, etc.

As she explained the process by which Sheffield has been building her e-mail database, she removed all doubt that the Oxendine campaign shared their list. “Asking associates, friends, and supporters” for their lists made it pretty clear. My addresses are on no other list (together) than John Oxendine’s and her explanation just verified everything I thought had happened.

We all get spam. Spam is just part of the daily process if you have an e-mail account. Does anyone else find it a bit disturbing that a political candidate would be relying on mailing lists where recipient addresses were not blind copied to build their own database? As a web developer and the owner of a web hosting company I am quite familiar with OPT-IN and OPT-OUT e-mail marketing, but I will address that issue in a few moments.

The next paragraph made me laugh out loud. She actually took the time to tell me that she was not going to go ‘into detail’ of where they look for addresses because I may be supporting one of their opponents. Ha ha. Wow. I just had to laugh out loud again as I typed that.

She already told me where they look, by “asking associates, friends and supporters for their group lists, copying emails from messages that were sent out and the recipients were not blind copied (several campaigns have sent out emails without blind copying their lists), obtaining lists from groups that Maria is a member of or has spoken to, researching all sorts of media contacts as well as any and every blog which has any political bent, business sources, etc.”

Yes, I am still laughing.

Kathryn Ballou goes on to state that there are 2 types of candidates. “Those who do the research and reach out to as many voters as possible and those who rely on special interests and Capitol contacts.”

I honestly thought she was being “good naturedly” again. Was she serious? If doing research to reach out to voters includes borrowing and grabbing unsolicited e-mail addresses for your campaign then I don’t think you’re much better than those special interest and Capitol contacts. In fact, just for the record, none of those special interest and Capitol contacts have ever spammed me before either, so that speaks volumes about the character of the Sheffield campaign.

She continues with, “With all due respect, the campaign reached out to you, and by so doing demonstrated respect for you as a Georgia voter. The campaign followed standard, social protocol by installing a user friendly opt out link.”

Respect? Spamming two of my e-mail addresses with unsolicited campaign e-mails is their way of reaching out to me and demonstrating respect to me as a Georgia voter? Pardon me while I try to remain “good naturedly” here, but that’s a load of bullshit and she knows it.

The Sheffield campaign did not reach out to me. They spammed me. They demonstrated a complete lack of respect to me as a Georgia voter by sending me a pair of unsolicited e-mails to two addresses that do not receive political notifications, except from one other candidate.

Until February 5th of this year I had no idea who Maria Sheffield was, and if her campaign wanted to reach out to me they could have done so using any number of means to do so, one of which is to contact me directly through my blog. Mrs. Ballou stated previously that the campaign was “researching all sorts of media contacts as well as any and every blog which has any political bent”. I guess scraping my addresses from one of their many sources was easier than finding 101 Dead Armadillos somewhere down the road.

The final paragraph of her response claims that the e-mail she sent had “fewer than 100th of a percentage point of people choosing to opt out”. There’s probably a good reason, or reasons why this is true.

The first could be that many of the e-mails sent were automatically marked as spam and deleted by anti-spam software before the recipients ever viewed them. Spam Assassin, the anti-spam solution we use on our servers give customers the option of automatically deleting spam. Recipients would never know they received the spam therefore they never would have opted out from the list.

Another possibility is that people didn’t see a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient could opt out of getting email from them in the future. The CAN-SPAM Act, which applies to businesses contains seven main requirements.

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

As you can see in this screen shot of the bottom of the e-mail that was sent, there are links to subscribe and unsubscribe, but they seem to get lost in all of the social networking, “paid for”, and other links polluting the bottom of the e-mail message. Basically, there is no clear notice that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand that they can opt-out of receiving future emails.

 

The term “opt-out” doesn’t even appear in the e-mail message, and honestly, I doubt many of the people who “junked” the e-mail never even checked the bottom of the message before they clicked that “junk” button in their e-mail client.

So in summary, I was correct in suspecting that the John Oxendine campaign shared my e-mail addresses, which makes Tim Echols look pretty bad this evening since he assured me just yesterday that “We do not sell or give our list to anyone, so unless it was stolen or hacked, I don’t think it was from us”.

As an independent conservative in the state of Georgia, I choose to support the candidates who are the most fiscally conservative and hold themselves to the highest of standards and the strongest of ethics.

It may be a pipe dream to think that I might one day find a candidate who possesses all of those requirements but that hasn’t stopped me from looking for them. It also hasn’t stopped me from calling out those who claim to possess any of them when they clearly do not.