Support Bush, Win a Mouse Pad
John Pinckney of Muncie, Indiana, thinks President Bush is
"demonstrating genuine leadership" in steering the nation's economy. So do Kyle
Klink of Rochester, New York; Stephanie Johnson of Milton, Massachusetts; and
Michael Snyder of Merced, California. In the past two weeks, they and three
dozen others have published identical letters to media sites, including the
The source of all these letters is
Critics say the RNC is using Web tools to simulate grass-roots support--a technique known as an "astroturf" campaign.
"We're just trying to use technology to get people more involved in the political process," replies Chuck DeFeo, online communications director for the RNC in Washington, D.C. He says the letter has been published about 44 times, but denies the astroturf charge.
They're also demonstrating the
The GOP site's Action Center makes it easy to search for print and broadcast outlets by geographic area, then fire off a prefab letter or compose one of your own. DeFeo points out that members are encouraged to edit text in the prewritten letters or add their own comments.
The payoff? The site awards "GOPoints" that letter senders can accumulate and spend on a variety of goods. For example, you collect five points for contacting the media and another two if the outlet publishes your letter. When you reach 95 points, you can trade them in for a "Team Leader" mouse pad. Other prizes include T-shirts (185 points), portable coolers (375 points), or leather portfolios (525 points).
"People aren't doing this for the points," DeFeo says. "They're doing it because they support the President's agenda."
Using the Web to mass-mail prewritten letters
"They're bringing e-commerce techniques to political mobilization," McCurry says. "Our technology is capable of doing all the same stuff, but we don't incorporate tchotchkes the way the RNC is doing."
Republicans are far from the only ones using Web technology to spur political action.
For example, the
However, sites that offer incentive programs for targeting media outlets
appear scarce, and the RNC site may be unique in its approach. Politics made
Most large newspapers weed out astroturf letters, says Scott Bosley,
executive director of the
"I would consider what the RNC did astroturfing," he says. "Most newspapers would throw these letters out."