*”60 Minutes” Questions DNC, RNC

“60 Minutes,” the CBS-TV news program, aired a segment Sunday night that questioned the fundraising direct mail tactics of the Republican and Democratic national committees and said the groups are raising money with some of the same direct mail techniques that the U.S. Senate criticized Publishers Clearing House for using.

In the opening to the segment, correspondent Morley Safer said this election year has been a “bonanza for the post office. This year, millions of pieces of mail were sent out from both the Republican and Democratic national committees, asking us for money. Methods they use are familiar to anyone who has ever received one of those important-looking Publishers Clearing House offerings.”

Safer said both parties expect to raise $50 million from direct mail by Election Day today.

In the segment, Safer quizzed Joe Andrew, chairman of the DNC, and Jim Nicholson, chairman of the RNC, about their direct mail tactics.

Safer implied that the mailings may be deceptive because they have the names of official-sounding addresses — such as the Department of Voter Records and the Office of Control and Audit — that do not appear to be real offices or departments. He said the committees’ use of bulk mail that looks as though it were personal and received special handling by placing “UrgentGram” on the envelope is also deceptive.

Safer asked Nicholson, “The post office or AT&T, or whoever, has no such thing as an UrgentGram, right?”

Nicholson replied, “I don't know. … Perhaps that's something that we've been creative enough to come up with.”

Safer said the Democrats are equally creative, using the term “Priority Express.” “It's deceptive language,” Safer said to Andrew.

Andrew replied, “No, I don't think that it's deceptive at all. It doesn't claim to be from the post office. It doesn't claim to be from Western Union.”

After some prodding by Safer, Andrew said, “Clearly, it's designed to get people's attention — to say, ‘Of all those letters I've gotten this day, this one is important. And that we ought to try to open it.’ “

Safer said that if the DNC's “Priority Express” looks familiar, that is because it is similar to PCH’s “Priority Express.”

Safer also said the U.S. Senate became so fed up with these sorts of direct mail tactics that it held hearings last year and raked PCH’s executives over the coals.

“The Senate got on its high moral horse and voted 93 to nothing in passing the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act,” Safer said. “Somehow, the senators neglected to mention their own parties' appeals.”

Safer also criticized some of the language within the mailers. For example, he said that when a donor sent $10 to the RNC, he received a letter saying he had been awarded “one of the highest levels of distinction of our party.” As for the Democrats, when someone donated a small amount, he received a letter that said, “You've played an essential role in the success of this administration,” and that he has demonstrated “dedicated leadership.”

“Remember those sweeps hearings?” Safer said. “One of the things the Senate committee felt was particularly offensive was a letter describing the recipient's importance — how his name was the subject of high-level corporate conversation, in which an executive showed some concern over why a particular customer had not yet won a prize.”

Publishers Clearing House stopped using these techniques, Safer said, but the political parties have not. For example, he said that in an RNC letter, an official wrote to a small contributor, “I will see Governor Bush at the Republican National Convention. Please return the enclosed Membership Acceptance Reply, so I can tell him you have given your financial support to our effort.”

In response, the RNC’s Nicholson said, “You know, people are, I think, more intelligent than you're giving them credit for. When, when they get a letter like this, they, just like when they get a letter for a newspaper subscription or a magazine subscription, or they know that it, it's not always literally them. But it’s, it's them in a collective sense.”

In the segment, Safer also interviewed Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, who has been studying campaign mail. He concluded that it is just another scam.

“When you call the RNC and ask for the Office of Control and Audit, they don't know what you're talking about,” Safer said.

Sabato replied, “That's one of the favorite techniques … to frighten a person into opening up the envelope.”

Sabato said both parties use the same tactics.

“There is no good guy here. … And there are loads of people out there who want to believe that their side only does good things and the other side is evil. They really ought to study direct mail for a while. They'd wake up.”

In response to the segment, Neal Denton, executive director at the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Washington, said, “These are all techniques that direct mailers use to capture the attention of the reader, and a lot of folks up on Capitol Hill here who were concerned about the use of these techniques in one form or fashion now can see they are often used by the Republican and Democratic national committees.”

Denton said he “looks forward to seeing if there is another set of hearings on this next year.”

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