Enough political SPAM to blot out the sun...
The pilot term for Google's Gmail VSP program is officially underway. The long of the short of it? If you don't like political spam, too bad.
What is the Gmail VSP Pilot?
If you love getting emails from politicians you've never heard of, you won't have any issues with this new program rolled out by Google in response to recent political pressure. For the rest of the 1.5 billion Gmail users, this is a hot off the press change to your Gmail settings.
Participating senders in this pilot are able to circumvent your Gmail spam filters. Who can participate, how it happened, and how you can take action on the receiving end of unwanted email deliveries are described below.
For those wondering VSP stands for 'Verified Sender Program' rather than Vicious Sales Person although the email marketing might appear similar to the recipients.
The program's approval process
A spokesperson for Google, José Castañeda, shared the pilot program's goal: “Our goal during this pilot program is to assess alternative ways of addressing concerns from bulk senders." This program was created by Google, voted on by the Federal Election Commission, and is now live for all Gmail users. Groups eligible for the pilot are signing up now and following this course of action.
Did you know the next technology related ruling from the FEC was a 5-1 vote in favor of Sprinkle? In back-to-back sessions, a ruling for a new donor technology (without spam) followed a ruling to help traditional spam services, and both were approved with 5-1 votes. Learn more about Sprinkle's FEC ruling here.
The Gmail VSP Pilot was approved by the FEC but after a record amount of public interest. FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said it was “a record-setting number of comments,” and added that “we had one, maybe two comments that thought it was a good idea.”
Right up until the FEC meeting itself, the commission received over 2,700 public comments in response to Google’s proposed program, with the overwhelming majority of commenters opposed to the idea of more political emails reaching their inboxes.
There are three groups who benefit from VSP Pilot Eligibility, and none of the three are everyday grassroots donors who prefer less automated marketing spam in their inbox. Authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees. In short, political groups with an FEC ID are eligible for this pilot.
How does this work?
Program compliant emails sent by eligible senders enrolled in the VSP will be delivered to the inbox of Gmail users. The first of these emails you receive will have a banner prompting you to opt out!
If a user takes no action on the first unwanted email, the emails will continue to rain down on you from that sender. If you do opt out (from the first one) then the sender has 24 hours to remove you from your list.
How does this get approved?
The Federal Election Commission voted to allow Google to proceed with a pilot program that would keep emails from eligible campaigns out of spam folders, saying that the proposal did not represent a prohibited in-kind contribution to political candidates or committees.
Google said in its July request to the FEC that, under the proposed pilot program, it would remove Gmail’s spam filters from emails sent by “authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees” that are registered with the FEC.
Email recipients would have to manually unsubscribe from the emails, or mark them as spam in their own accounts.
Google proposed the program after Republican lawmakers earlier this year claimed that the company’s spam filters were biased against conservative candidates. GOP policymakers, in particular, cited a March study from North Carolina State University, which found that Google was far more likely to mark campaign emails from right-wing candidates as spam than emails from left-wing candidates.
What does this mean for individuals?
If you receive one email from one candidate, it is very likely that is the tip of the iceberg. Donors are used to their names, emails & phone numbers being shared between political candidates. This causes many potential donors to sit on the sidelines letting donors who are ok with spam pick candidates for them. Unfortunately there are 100s of campaigns who one-by-one-by-one that you'll have to unsubscribe from, rather than using the gmail setting you were previously accustomed to.
What can I do about this?
The TLDR is that your spam filters have effectively been reset. If political spam is something you've blocked in the past, you'll have to take another unique action again.
Users can unsubscribe if you want to. But if you've unsubscribed in the past, you'll need to now do this again if you are seeing a grey informational message at the top of your email message.
Why do political candidates us SPAM "Bulk Email" as their primary way to connect with donors?
In August 2022, it was reported that the campaign arm of Senate Republicans had collected $181.5 million by the end of July — but spent 95 percent of it. A big investment in digital, and hyper-aggressive marketing tactics, have not paid off.
The same mass marketing tactics are deployed by the DCCC and democratic party organizations as well. One thing that Democrats and Republicans have in common is how they spend their donor's money. Rather than giving most funds to candidates to use locally, both parties spend millions on marketing automation tools like Tatango.
Donors understand that campaigns need money to compete. Typical donations are between $35-$50 and most commonly one time events, but between 5-10 million US voters contribute regularly on monthly plans. Candidates need donors to pay for ads, to pay for their campaign staff, and simply to have enough individual donors to be included on debate stages (an indicator of voter support and likely voter turnout).
I thought Sprinkles were for my donuts....
Introducing Sprinkle — the grassroots contribution tool to power your personalized political movement. You've worked hard building your community. Share your unique movement with your followers and change politics together.
Grassroots movements work best when they are started with individuals and grow together.
You don't need mass blast email spam without your consent, what we need is a movement that you create representing the unique values you want to see succeed.