Though it appears that national political parties will get the OK to rent their mailing lists even under the new campaign finance law, it is unclear whether they actually would do so or whether marketers would see the names as valuable.
The issue was taken up by the Federal Election Commission in a meeting Jan. 16 based on a question from the Libertarian National Party about renting its list.
“We're not talking about a rule here, we're talking about a specific request that the commission got from the Libertarian National Party,” FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said. “The way this process works is that if somebody wants to do something, they ask, and the commission issues an advisory opinion.”
The query resulted from the new campaign finance law's ban on soft money from corporations, unions and foreign nationals. In the past, money from list rentals could be placed in a non-federal account. Since the ban, that money goes into a federal account, which prohibits donations from such sources.
The FEC also reserves the right to ask for proof of how the rented names were being used.
“The parties can't use this as a device for raising money from prohibited sources,” Biersack said.
The decision is subject to a final vote in a few days, he said. However, he said the commission likely will approve the renting of mailing lists as long as the political party charged a fair market rate for the file, renters actually used the lists for mailings and the rentals represented a small percentage of usage of the lists.
“If they stay within those boundaries, then these transactions are not contributions and therefore not soft money,” he said.
Still, one list professional said that many direct marketers would have no use for the names.
“I don't believe that it would have any real impact on general consumer marketing,” said Fran Green, president of data management at American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ. “It has more implications in the nonprofit world for other political organizations and charities.”
Further, it is unclear whether the two major political parties would even want to rent their donor names out. Reports said that the Republican National Committee would not do so.
“Lots of organizations typically guard their donor lists pretty closely,” Biersack said. “It's not obvious that the parties are going to want to do this.”