DM News Views: Put Your Money Where Our PAC Is

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This month afforded all of us in the list business a chance to read articles by list professionals in DM News' special report. By and large, the articles and the sentiments were interesting, but they did not strike me as very illuminating. Our business - lists, list brokerage and list management - and the direct marketing industry are under attack. We know it, we read about it, we can see it and we can hear it daily. That - that - is where we are today, and I'm concerned that we do not understand the nature and extent of the threat.


We must engage the political leadership that's targeting us by supporting the Direct Marketing Association's political action committee Direct•Voice. We must reverse the lack of support for the PAC that harms our industry's efforts at defending our interests.


We have much in common with the political leadership hammering away at us, yet we don't seem to get through to that leadership as well as we might expect. Every elected legislator needs, uses and relies on rental lists for fundraising and communications; lettershops and printers; donor management software; data management/service bureau/data manipulation services; teleservices, etc. Many of you count at least one politician or politically oriented entity as a client. Yet we are pilloried in Washington, set up as agents of privacy invasion, enablers of identity theft and destroyers of the environment.


I can't identify any time in my 25 years in the business when a more incorrect picture of us has been spread, accepted by a public tired of dinnertime calls and unwanted mail. But we're the first to insist that we don't want to call those who don't want to be called or mail those who don't want to be mailed. Yet, we are pilloried as if we oppose such steps.


Why do political leaders attack us without apparent consequence? Part of the answer lies in the spectacular theater an issue-filled hearing makes. Hearing room cameras are hungry for stories with victims, and it has been easy for "them" to demonize "us." So what are we doing about it?


I've watched Congress get its licks on us, especially on the list business for these past nine months, and I'm looking for the counter-punch. So far, I hear Congress confuse data management companies and data compilers with list brokers, and do so without correction. We must act, we must speak up and we must adopt a united front when we speak to Congress and the states. We need a higher profile, and the PAC can do that for us. But first we have to support the PAC.


The DMA has Special Interest Councils - 17, in fact (18 if one includes the Agency Council, but I am unable to report on its activities from the DMA's Web site.). They run the gamut from analytics to teleservices. Guiding their efforts are 195 operating committee members (204 if one includes various special advisers whose voting roles are unclear). Over and above the op com members are the directors of the DMA board, where there appears to be 36 members.


Helping represent our interests are not only the DMA staff but also our PAC. Mark Micali, DMA vice president of government affairs, runs the PAC with the counsel of an advisory board. In the interests of full disclosure, I must add that I'm a member of the DMA and its Catalog Council and sit on the Echo Committee, and I have contributed to the PAC. I admit to being "political," which in my terms means I care about what people do to me, with my money.


Here's the part I find hard to understand. Courtesy of the Federal Elections Commission and the DMA Web site, we matched the names of our DMA board members and op com members with the donors to the DMA's PAC during the 2003-04 election cycle. The records show that only 19 of the 36 board members donated to the PAC in that cycle. Perhaps some of the directors are new and need time for the FEC to reflect their donations. Let's hope so. But before we lament a mere 53 percent participation rate for the DMA board, keep in mind that there are 195 op com members whose participation in the political process can be examined. It's at this level that the extent of the problem becomes clear.


Participation requires an effort. It requires showing initiative and being aggressive. If we do not help the PAC raise more than its paltry $153,000 in a two-year cycle to protect the interests of our multibillion-dollar industry, we are going to be led like lambs to the regulatory slaughterhouse.


The political professionals are acutely aware that we have a PAC and that it is not as funded as we might expect. So what are we doing, and what can we tell from the FEC's open records about our level of self-interested support for political action?


Sixteen of 17 active councils have op coms whose elected members have not donated a dime to the PAC. On the one council with op com members who have contributed (the Catalog Council, which is the largest with 18 elected members and five advisory committee members), we can count the donors on one hand: two op com members and two advisory committee members.


I realize that supporting the PAC is not a condition of op com service, nor is it an unwritten rule that they should write checks, but let's agree this is a dreadful statistic. As direct marketers and DMA members, shouldn't we expect more? Two donors out of 195? When was the last time you found it acceptable for your house file's top segment to deliver a 1.02 percent response?


Now, PAC participation by law is a personal matter. The money given must be personal money, not corporate funds, and not a penny may be reimbursed from any expense account. But the beauty of the PAC is that there are no minimums, and every dime is used. I am asking for increased, immediate participation by council members, the DMA membership and every interested party who can offer support at any level to this effort.


A year from now, if nothing is done, I think we will look back in frustration, perhaps even anger, when we realize we could have stepped up to the plate. Money talks, and a well-funded PAC is a mighty weapon. If you wish to give to the DMA's PAC, contact Micali at the DMA's office in Washington at 202/861-2422. He'll take your call - and your check!


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