Lists are valuable resource for political campaigns

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Gov. Scott Walker got “Trumped” in Iowa this summer as he sought the Republican presidential nomination. But his efforts may yet play a role in Iowa politics.

The governor seemed to have done everything politically correct. Walker had developed detailed position papers on several issues. His campaign hired staffers to identify Republicans who would support him at the Iowa nominating caucuses. By early summer the work was paying off; he was high in some public opinion polls.

His Iowa work and efforts from his three gubernatorial elections had provided an email list of about 675,000 names of likely supporters and donors. Then Donald Trump seized the national Republican stage, and all of Walker’s strategy was washed away. Support and donations to Walker’s campaign dried up. In mid-September Walker dropped out of the presidential campaign.

Other Republican candidates are interested in such ready-made email lists because they provide an opportunity to quickly find new supporters and donations, experts told the Politico online news organization. Walker’s organization offered the list for $10,500, Politico said.

But the posted price probably doesn’t mean much because revenue sharing between the “dropped-out” candidate and the “continuing” candidate often happens, Politico explained. While politicians are well-aware of the arrangement, the general public is mostly unaware that owners of political email lists and those who would “rent” them often share in the receipts. Some of the money collected through appeals also goes to the consultants who manage the lists. But citizens who respond to email pleas for campaign cash probably never learn about the split between politicians or how much is going to the consultants.

“The email list market is kind of the Wild West,” said Stephen Meyers, the owner of Granite Lists, which manages Walker’s list. “There’s a lot of wheeling and dealing. There’s not established commissions and margins,” he said.

The Granite Lists price sheet said revenue sharing for the Walker list is available. “When you need to raise online money fast, this list is the way to go,” promotion for the Walker price list touts. Meyers refused to discuss specifics of the Walker account, saying only “there’s been a lot of interest.”

In mid-December, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who also is running for the GOP presidential nomination, began encouraging donations via the Walker email list to help pay off the governor’s campaign debt. Cruz would benefit if he could attract early Walker backers – and if a Walker-Cruz revenue share was part of the deal. Walker has said Cruz was the only former opponent sending out such emails.

Kurt Luidhardt, who operates the Mustard Seed Media list rental business, said revenue sharing is “the most common pricing model” in the current political marketplace. His firm has been used by Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“On the presidential level, I would say (the revenue share split is) probably 75, 80 percent – maybe,” Luidhardt told Politico.

The starting point for revenue sharing agreements is 50-50 but more popular candidates like Cruz usually get a better split because they are likely to lure more donors than lesser-known candidates. Experts said revenue sharing is far more common among Republicans than among Democrats.

Part of Walker’s campaign debts include reimbursing the state of Wisconsin for things like security when he was campaigning around the country. The governor has already paid the state more than $67,000 on that debt.

Mark Stephenson, who was the top data officer in Walker’s campaign, said the basic rule in building donor and supporter email lists is the size. “The bigger the list you have, the better off you are in the end.” He said the average donor will give nearly $70 during the course of a campaign.

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