The Internet campaign: It's all about e-mail

It's no wonder that so many people, in the early days of the Internet, hoped that the new medium could displace the power of television in modern campaigns. To be honest, campaign Web sites serve as great rallying posts for supporters, but they have yet to emerge as true mass media.

In the middle of the debate about television, one campaign caught a glimmer of the Net's real potential: It's an organizing tool. A one-stroke phone tree. The low-budget, high-profile campaign of Jesse Ventura brought that discovery to light.

Maybe I'm an old-school technophile, but it seems to me that the biggest things we had to learn about Internet campaigning, we had learned by 1999.

In 2000, of course, the campaigns started using the Internet as a gimmick to get stories in newspapers and on TV. I got tired of that game -- so tired, in fact, that I decided not to play. To have pushed those lame stories would have made me part of the problem.

Here are links to stories during the days when we were looking for that electronic election miracle:

Breaking news

"Former Wrestler's Campaign Got a Boost From the Internet"

JESSE Ventura, best known for his career as a professional wrestler, was elected Governor of Minnesota on Tuesday in an upset that was one of the biggest surprises of the election -- a victory that some attribute to effective use of the Internet as a tool for mobilizing volunteers and voters.

The New York Times on the Web, Nov. 6, 1998

"Bush Campaign Asks Government to Go After Critical Web Site"

IN ONE of the first requests to spur a Federal regulatory agency to move against a political Web site, a lawyer for the exploratory committee of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against owners of a Web site that is strongly critical of the potential Presidential candidate.

The New York Times on the Web, May 21, 1999

"Bush Shows How Not to Handle the Internet, Experts Say"

WHEN a lawyer for Gov. George W. Bush of Texas filed a complaint with Federal regulators against a satirical Web site, he was just trying to protect Bush's image. But in the weeks since, the move has become a textbook case for campaigns on the wrong way to handle Internet critics.

The New York Times on the Web, June 8, 1999

"Election Regulators Dismiss Complaint Against Bush Parody Site"

FEDERAL regulators have dismissed a complaint filed by the presidential campaign of Governor George W. Bush of Texas against an Internet critic whose site gwbush.com, uses its potentially confusing Web address to serve up scathing parodies of Bush's official site.

The New York Times on the Web, April 18, 2000

"Small Campaign Web Sites May Collide With Election Laws"

WHEN Jonathan Prince heard that former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey was running for President, he wished that he had the money to contribute to the campaign. But he didn't. So Prince, a free-lance Web site designer in Washington, did what he could by building the Bill Bradley For President unofficial Web site.

Prince, who has had little contact with the campaign, saw himself as an independent advocate. But under a recent interpretation of election law by Federal regulators, his activities could be the legal equivalent of the work of a professional political consultant.

The New York Times on the Web, May 16, 1999

"Volunteers' Actions Lead Skeptics To Question McCain's Online Donations"

SINCE John S. McCain's victory in the New Hampshire primary, his campaign has been touting the amount of money brought in through the campaign's Web site -- now at about $2.7 million -- saying the flood represented a groundswell of individual support and a breakthrough in Internet campaigning.

But it seems the numbers were ultimately boosted by a more tried and true technology: the telephone.

The New York Times on the Web, Feb. 12, 2000

"Experts Want to Dissect McCain's Internet Fundraising"

WHEN Senator John McCain's campaign said supporters had contributed more than $2 million through his Web site in the days after the New Hampshire primary, the number made headlines -- and raised eyebrows among close followers of Internet politics.

Other campaigns were quick to question the McCain figure, and now the campaign is being asked to back up its claim.

The New York Times on the Web, Feb. 18, 2000

Experiments - for better and for worse

"Spam in California Political Race May Backfire"

SOMETIME this week, in the final days before the California primary, a young political consultant is planning to e-mail half a million voters with political advertising promoting Democratic candidates.

This high-profile test of the Internet's political uses has brought praise from traditional campaign consultants who say political spam is inevitable and warnings from advocates of online politicking who say such mailings could destroy political discourse on the Internet.

The New York Times on the Web, May 27, 1998

"Political Consultant Decides Not to Send Bulk E-Mail"

IN A move hailed as a step toward preserving political discourse on the Internet, a California political consultant has decided not to send unsolicited political e-mail messages to voters.

The New York Times on the Web, June 2, 1998

"Seeking a Net Impact In 1996 Vote"

WITH this year's elections came the first opportunity to prove the value of online politicking, and now that the votes are counted, activists have launched a search for the Internet Surprise -- a turning-point campaign in which a candidate's online maneuvering clearly won the battle.

So far, they haven't found it.

The New York Times on the Web, Nov. 15, 1996

"Politicians Woo Voters on the Web"

PHIL Noble, president of Politics Online, a company in Charleston, S.C., that provides Internet tools for politics, is betting steak dinners these days on the following prediction: this fall, he says, "we're going to see the first candidate who won or lost an election on the basis of the Internet."

He compares 1998 on the Internet to 1964 on television -- the year Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign pummeled Barry M. Goldwater with negative television advertising. Candidates who tap the Internet's potential could be just as successful this year.

The New York Times, July 30, 1998

"Sites That Measure Candidates' Views Against Your Own"

CANDIDATES seeking a presidential nomination are already campaigning heavily, and voters are trying to determine, by viewing debates and political advertisements, whom they support. This political season, they have an alternative online.

You can register your opinions on various issues, hit a button and see which candidate's views match yours.

The New York Times, Dec. 23, 1999

"Politics a Hot New Internet Investment"

THOUGH Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has never declared himself a Presidential candidate, at least 39 pieces of prime Internet real estate have already been claimed in his name. Yet only two of those addresses for sites on the World Wide Web -- Bush2000.org and GeorgeWBush.com -- belong to people officially affiliated with Governor Bush.

Most of the rest were snatched up by a small group of speculators who have been grabbing politicians' names like mining claims in the Old West. Their motive is financial, not political. The speculators, who paid $70 for each Internet address, or domain name, hope to sell their cyber-claims to the highest bidders, even if the buyer happens to be a political opponent of the potential candidate in question.

The New York Times, Jan. 2, 1999

"Candidates Try Asking for Money Via E-Mail"

IN THE closing days of June, an important money-raising period for political campaigns, several thousand people received a "personal" message from Elizabeth Dole.

"Yes, it's really me," the e-mail began. After a note thanking recipients for their support, the message asked: "Can I count on you to help me at this crucial moment in my campaign? We truly need dollars now before June 30th to make the difference. And any pledge you make today will be a big help to me."

Several campaigns sent similar appeals for money to their supporters by e-mail in the last few weeks. Campaign managers were trying to boost their total fund-raising take before the mid-year filing of disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission. These totals are widely seen as a measure of a candidacy's strength.

The New York Times on the Web, July 15, 1999

"In New York, Candidates for Governor Are Big Online Spenders"

THE RACE for New York Governor has inspired some of the biggest online campaign spending in the nation, with candidates pouring tens of thousands of dollars into Web sites and online advertising and using tactics never before seen in Internet politics.

The spending is unusual because in other parts of the country candidates have used serious Internet strategies only when the race has been close.

The New York Times on the Web, Oct. 28, 1998

"Site Offers Videos of Candidates, Without the Flash"

FOR 20 years, Doug Bailey created campaign advertising for television, often turning to attack ads to get a message across. But for the 2000 election season, Bailey, a well-known Republican consultant, is trying something different. He has turned to the Internet to offer voters no-frills video clips of candidates calmly stating their positions.

The New York Times on the Web, Nov. 18, 1999

"From Experts to Novices, Candidates Try Campaigning Online"

WHEN supporters call the field offices of Bill Bradley's Presidential campaign to offer help, organizers immediately ask whether they have access to the Internet. If the answer is "yes," they are instructed to download the "community involvement kit" from Bradley's Web site and follow its tips, which suggest activities like writing letters to the editor, telling friends about Bradley or hosting a "Dollars for Bill House Party."

The campaign could only afford to print 500 of the kits, but 6,000 people downloaded the electronic version from the Web site within a month of its introduction.

This marriage of traditional and high-tech campaigning came together largely because of the role of Lynn Reed, an Internet political strategist, as a senior adviser to the campaign.

The New York Times on the Web, Aug. 3, 1999

"TV Political News Dumped on the Web; Newscasts burdened by sensation pass politics off to Web sites"

IN THE land of never-ending liposuction coverage, where a live police pursuit can override the top stories of the day, a television station is showing a spectacle its audience may never have seen: five-minute interviews with candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles.

Online Journalism Review, March 27, 2001

"If TV's Just Not Enough: Conventions on the Net"

POLITICAL conventions were once smoky back-room affairs. Then they became television events. Now they have moved to the Net.

. . . Many Internet experts say that at this point in history, the use of the medium may be like the use of television at conventions in the 1950's, when networks were still learning what the cameras could do.

The New York Times, July 20, 2000

"Republicans Plan to Offer A Party Line To the Internet"

IN AN effort to raise money, embrace supporters and bypass the news media, the Republican National Committee plans to begin offering subscriptions in January to a "family friendly" Internet service that will deliver the party's messages directly to supporters.

The New York Times, Nov. 8, 1999

(links to archive)

"For-Profit Web Sites Give New Meaning to Campaign Financing"

BACK in October, when Voter.com was pressing the two Democratic presidential campaigns to pay for space on its new for-profit Web site, the sales staff sent campaign aides e-mail messages saying the other camp was about to sign contracts with the site.

The tactic, according to campaign officials, prompted an unusual exchange: a campaign aide for Vice President Al Gore called the office of Bill Bradley to ask if the former New Jersey senator's campaign was really about to sign. The Bradley campaign had no such plans. Now, neither organization plans to do business with Voter.com.

The New York Times, Jan. 10, 2000

(links to archive)

"In E-Politics, Clinton's Former Adviser Still Plays by Own Rules"

ONE of the best-known veterans of old-fashioned hard-ball politics, Dick Morris, has turned to the Internet and shaken up e-politics.

Mr. Morris's method of working the Internet involves asking visitors to vote yes or no on issues featured on his Web site, which converts the votes into thousands of e-mail messages that are sent to elected officials.

That technique has provoked outrage among longtime Internet political experts, who say it should be the visitors to the Web site who are selecting the issues, not Mr. Morris. They also object to his flooding elected officials with thousands of e-mail messages that could obscure the correspondence sent by individuals.

The New York Times, Nov. 12, 1999

(links to archive)

"Two New Web Sites Cover Political Races"

IN THE experimental environment of political information on the Net, two commercial Web sites, including one whose news operation is directed by the prominent journalist Carl Bernstein, are covering the elections and political conventions while maintaining partnerships under contract with the political parties.

The New York Times, July 17, 2000

(links to archive)

Research and discoveries

"Political Laughs for Internet Users"

IF YOU want to win an election using the Internet, you might want to hire a comedian.

Internet users were far more likely this year to exchange jokes about candidates by e-mail than to browse Web sites, participate in forums or exchange e-mail messages about serious political issues, according to a survey to be released today by the Democracy Online Project at George Washington University.

The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2000

"Even on the Web, Major Political Parties Have the Edge"

NATHAN Johnson ran for Governor of California last year, and, as a candidate from the American Independent Party , he didn't quit his day job to campaign. So, after driving a city bus in San Diego all day, he would return home, check his messages, and spend the evening mailing campaign literature to the 30 or 40 people a day who requested it.

Over the course of his campaign, he had about 30 volunteers to help him -- about 1 volunteer per million people in the state. And, even though the Internet would have been an inexpensive way to get his message out, creating a campaign Web site was the last thing on his mind.

Johnson's experience is common among third-party candidates, and it explains why these candidates were far less likely to have campaign Web sites than Democrats and Republicans in the 1998 elections.

The New York Times on the Web, Feb. 27, 1999

"Candidates in Tight Races Turn to Web, Survey Finds"

THE MORE competitive the political contest, the more likely a candidate will try to reach out to voters online with a Web site. That's the conclusion drawn by a researcher at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who analyzed this year's gubernatorial and Senate races.

The New York Times on the Web, Oct. 28, 1998

"Cheap Online Fundraising Is a Boon to Political Groups"

IN POLITICS, conventional forms of fundraising like direct mail have become so expensive that for some groups, a $25 donation barely pays for itself.

But for the growing number of political groups that are taking to the Internet to raise money for candidates, the low cost of online fundraising is making small donations worthwhile -- a shift that could motivate these groups to broaden their appeal beyond the interests of the wealthiest donors.

The New York Times on the Web, Nov. 23, 1999

"Who Says You Want a Revolution?"

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — By all accounts, the search continues for the great Internet insurrection, the prophesied rise of computer-driven democracy where money is irrelevant and ideas are king. It's a better world, in the grand scheme, full of knowledge and participation for all. It's the kind of place where people vote.

But a University of California researcher has some news about the Net:

There is no revolution.

The New York Times on the Web, Oct. 28, 1997

Regulating political expression

"Regulators Ready To Set Some Rules on Internet Campaigning"

DURING his summer vacation, Greg Laynor built a network of several hundred supporters for the Presidential campaign of Bill Bradley. He has set up a Web site, NetizensforBradley.org, created e-mail lists for supporters in each state and hosted online chats to stir enthusiasm for the former New Jersey Senator.

Laynor spent $100 -- as much as any 14-year-old webmaster could muster. He is not old enough to cast a vote, but he has used the Internet to reach hundreds of people who are.

Under current interpretations of election law, Laynor's activities are equal to those of a professional, well-financed political action committee.

The New York Times on the Web, Sept. 8, 1999

"Homemade Campaign Web Sites May Face More Regulation"

THE NOTION that the creator of a homemade political Web site might need to register with federal regulators or be fined has already generated controversy in Washington. But the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, which passed the House this week, may create more ways for Web activists to get in trouble with the government.

The New York Times on the Web, Sept. 16, 1999

"Campaign Regulators Clear Up Status of Political 'Fan Sites' "

FEDERAL regulators said on Wednesday that Web sites created by independent supporters of a candidate do not count as campaign contributions, a decision that partially cleared up a murky area of election law.

The New York Times, Nov. 11, 1999

"Letters Ask Election Commission to Leave the Internet Alone"

WHEN the Federal Election Commission requested comments on its role in regulating Internet campaigning, the online public spoke in concert. Their response: Hands off the Internet.

The New York Times on the Web, Jan. 13, 2000

"Group Says For-Profit Political Site is Breaking the Law" 

IN A case that raises questions about the commercialization of politics on the Internet, a nonprofit group has filed a complaint with federal regulators against the start-up company Grassroots.com, contending that candidate information on the site constitutes illegal contributions to campaigns.

The New York Times on the Web, April 20, 2000

More Internet/politics coverage:

E-democracy

What is the role of the Internet in a representative government? Can fast online communication improve the dialogue between people and politicians? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.

(22 stories)

E-government and campaign donors online

Local, state and federal governments have pushed information and services online at a rapid pace. That push is changing people's perceptions of government.

(22 stories)

Electronic voting

In the late 1990s, advocates of Internet voting lobbied to get their systems adopted by election officials. Then came the 2000 election and the national focus on the integrity of voting technology. The questions about security raised by the early opponents of e-voting are the same questions that opponents of electronic systems are raising now.

(11 stories)

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