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Thursday, October 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Group uses many tactics in mailings
By David Postman
They're all from the College Republican National Committee though one has to read the fine print to see that.
The big print says "Republican Headquarters 2004" or "Republican Election Committee" or one of the other names operators of the group use to raise money. The letters bring daily angst into the homes of senior citizens who make up the group's biggest contributors.
"We are mere weeks away from the most important election of our lifetimes and my worst nightmares have been confirmed," starts a recent letter from Paul Gourley, national director of "Republican Headquarters 2004."
"Unless I hear from you within the next 72 hours, President Bush and our Republican leaders may have little hope of thwarting the Democrats' anti-Republican plans in this final stretch leading up to Election Day."
That sort of approach is key to direct mail.
"It has to be crafted to make the donor feel like his contribution is vitally important to the campaign," according to a 1991 article in Campaigns & Elections magazine by Ron Kanfer, president of Response Dynamics, which runs the College Republicans fund-raising operation.
Kanfer wrote that "as a rule, direct mail donors tend to be 65 and older."
Response Dynamics is well-known for a particularly aggressive style of fund raising. According to a 1993 Campaigns & Elections article, increasing mail flow showed "time and again that the donors' capacity to give was nearly limitless."
The College Republicans letters are usually personalized, to varying degrees. One letter included a donor's name eight times to personalize the appeal.
"Your commitment today your contribution today WILL determine Election Day," one letter said.
One appeared to be an invoice for a past-due bill.
"This invoice in your hands is a bill of honor," Gourley wrote above an "ELECTION 2004 REMITTANCE."
"I ask that you submit $500 or whatever you possibly can with honor to Republican Headquarters 2004," he wrote, including the donor's name.
"P.S.," he wrote. "This invoice is past due only because Republican Headquarters 2004 is going up against the deep pockets of liberal special interest groups."
The invoice says the due date is "Upon Receipt," lists the amount requested as $500 and includes a 14-digit membership identification number and a six-digit "RH Code."
The letters are infused with inflated claims, such as the importance of the "air mail" stamp used to send one solicitation and the 44 cents taped to the letter to pay for return mail.
"Under normal circumstances, I couldn't possibly afford to send you a postage-paid Airmail envelope and 44 cents via Airmail," said an August letter from the Republican Elections Committee.
"But I had no choice. "
The letters come with petitions, letters of congratulations and surveys all to be returned immediately with a donation.
A National Republican Campaign Fund letter included copies of three checks supposedly written by other supporters.
"I am entrusting you with these three checks for one critical reason:
"A Republican Alert has been issued from the highest within our Party warning that President Bush may not be able to fill his re-election fund with anything close to what the Democrats are raising to defeat him," wrote national director Matthew Kennicott.
He wrote that the checks should be mailed back along with a donation of at least $50.
Those sorts of "response devices" are designed to involve the donor in the campaign and have been proven to improve donation rates, according to the 1993 Campaigns & Elections article.
The letters paint an America where President Bush and Republicans are likely to lose the election, where Democrats will stoop to anything including opening the mail of College Republican donors and where those who don't "know the strength of the media bias are being slowly brain washed."
The vast majority of the letters were signed by Kennicott and Gourley. Donors came to feel like they knew the young men.
Even as donors gave money they say they couldn't afford, they were becoming suspicious that they were being played.
"It's almost a game," said Eleanor Kille, a top donor. "I was working with two people. One would send a letter one day and the next day I would get a letter from the next person, and they would play that back and forth.
"It always sounded as though the person that was writing the letter was the one that was responsible to headquarters for getting a nice round balance all the time."
The letters, she said, were "practically crying that they don't have enough money for this or that."
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
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