Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On unreasonable collection

While impolitical has largely covered the Globe and Mail's report on the Cons' use of ten-per-centers, there's one piece of the story which cries out for followup:
The mailers serve a more sophisticated function than just spreading a political message. Many of them include mail-back coupons, which are used to compile vital mailing lists on which political parties depend to solicit votes, volunteers and money – and that's hard, expensive work.

The Tories typically ask recipients to choose which party leader they like, and mail the coupon back.
Now, one might remember a couple of weeks ago when the Cons tried to raise a stink over fund-raising links on Lib MPs' websites. And one might well be able to make the case that publicly-funded MP resources shouldn't be used for partisan purposes.

But the Cons' ten-per-center scheme would seem like a far more blatant abuse of MP resources for partisan purposes. It directly takes advantage of both MPs' free mailing privileges and constituents' ability to mail material free to MPs, but by all accounts turns the entire transaction into an information-gathering effort for the Conservative Party.

What we don't know for sure is how (if at all) information from the returned ten-per-centers crosses the line from MPs' offices to Con party databases. And that looks to me to be the area crying out for some more research: surely it's worth putting some pressure on the Cons to tell Canadians exactly what they're doing with their publicly-funded survey results (including whether they're finding their way into the Cons' partisan database). And even if they won't say there's bound to be somebody involved in the scheme in the past who can answer the question.

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