Where and how can I opt-out of paper campaign mailings for NYC?
March 30, 2011 4:34 PM   Subscribe

It's that time again: Bloomberg and other candidates are starting to cram trees in my mailbox. Where and how can I opt-out of paper campaign mailings for NYC?

I assume they got my name and address from voter registration rolls, but I can't find anyplace on the Board of Elections site to opt out of campaign mailings. Ditto for Bloomberg's campaign site. Any New Yorkers here with blissfully empty mailboxes come election season?
posted by D.Billy to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless New York is very different from all of the places where I've done campaign work, there is no way to universally opt out of campaign mailings. Campaigns are also exempt from respecting the Do Not Call list. You could try contacting each campaign that mails you individually and asking to be removed from their list for mail pieces, but I'm pretty doubtful that that will work either. The person who answers the phone isn't likely to have access to the mail lists. What a country!
posted by fancypants at 4:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bloomberg is not running for re-election this year.

That said, I was a campaign staffer on Bloomberg's 2001 campaign. The campaign's mailings were contracted out to a third party that mailed them on behalf of the campaign, based upon voter registration rolls that the Board of Elections provides to the public. (Registering to vote is a matter of public record.)

So, contacting the campaign generally will not yield any results. The person likely to answer the phone is a volunteer, very often a retired person, who has little to no contact with the managers of the campaign (other than the people who oversee the campaign's volunteers).

(And, no, I have no contacts in Bloomberg's current administration or at any other politicians' present political campaign, so please don't ask me that.)
posted by dfriedman at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2011

I've done the "answering calls at headquarters" job in campaigns in two states over the course of fifteen years, and, though I've always gotten requests along those lines, there was never one darned thing we could do to get someone off a list. My mom and sister worked for a state-level campaign and they had no authority to get people off of lists there. I sometimes wonder if even the candidates themselves would have the infrastructure access necessary to make such a change - like dfriedman says, the large-scale mailings are often contracted out, and usually use some kind of a public record.

My stepmother tried for years and years to get her party of choice to stop mailing her stuff - she made one donation in I think 1992 or 1993, and at one point more than ten years later was getting multiple copies of the same mailing, from different party organizations (the county committee, the Young Partiers, the senate campaign, So-And-So-For-This-Job, the state party, etc.) each month. She took to calling them up every time and telling them she'd never donate again because they were wasting her donations on mail to people who had already donated and were now regretting it. Even complaining in person, when volunteering, did nothing. It finally died off a year or so after Arnold was elected governor. I'm guessing someone new was put in charge and changed how they spent their money, or at least refreshed their database. She'd been round-binning the things for years by then; didn't even complain to us anymore as she tossed half the mail away each day. I'm quite certain it was nothing she did.

The really sick part, for me, were the campaigns where we'd use the entire Our Party list, the entire Unaffiliated/Independent/Third Party list, AND the list of everyone in The Other Party who didn't vote in the last two elections. In 2004, I was put in a barn and told to call people off of the Slackers In The Other Party list. They all got to hear from (and get mail from) both sides. There, we at least were allowed to put a special mark next to their name - which ended the phone calls, but the mailing lists were already set in stone by then.

Oh... and don't bother trying to stop voting for a while, because it won't work. People would say "I haven't voted in years!" and I'd have to be all "and I still can't take you off this list." Come to think of it, my grandmother was getting campaign mailings in 1996, and maybe even later (I just remember that because of how old my siblings were at the time,) and she died in 1989. They actually used address change information from my father (we lived in Grandma's house after she died, then moved.)
posted by SMPA at 5:41 PM on March 30, 2011

I work for a PR firm that does a lot of political direct mail in New York City so, first of all, let me apologize: Sorry.

I just spent a few minutes wracking my brain to think of an all-encompassing way to opt out of these mailings and-- sorry again!-- I couldn't come up with one.

There isn't a national or local mail equivalent of the do-not-call registry. Every time somebody proposes one, the postal workers' union blocks it.

Campaigns put their mailing lists together in a lot of different ways. Most use the Board of Elections' list of registered voters... from that they pull people who live in a certain area, are within a certain age range, etc. They almost always exclude people who haven't voted in the last few elections, so if you quit voting you'll eventually quit receiving political mail.

Sometimes campaigns buy mailing lists from defunct campaigns or advocacy organizations like the NRA or NEA. So if you ever put your name on one campaign's mailing list, chances are you'll end up on everybody else's list too.

No matter where the lists come from, they get checked against USPS records. That means that even if you move and don't change your voter registration, campaigns might still find you if you file a change of address with the USPS.

It's also worth saying that often mailing lists aren't put together by someone on the campaign staff... a campaign like Bloomberg's is definitely paying a mailing house or one of their direct mail firms (last cycle it was Knickerbocker, Sheinkopf, and I think at least one other firm) to produce the lists. So calling the campaigns probably won't help.

I guess none of that is very helpful. SORRY!
posted by Sifleandollie at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2011

Not to be a jerk but why can't you just throw it out? It's one thing when people are calling you because that's preventing other people from calling you and you need to deal with it when it happens but if people mail you stuff you don't want, just toss it out.

If you want to be passive aggressive, you could write on the lit "return to sender." Or, if they send you an envelope for donations, you could stuff some of the junk in there and send that. You'll keep getting mail but that might be fun.

FWIW, even if there was a do-not-mail list like the do-not-call list, it wouldn't apply to campaigns the same way do-not-call lists do not apply to campaigns because political speech is protected under the First Amendment.
posted by kat518 at 9:17 AM on March 31, 2011

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