June 2, 2012

Another political letter tapping public information to shame and intimidate.

Last night, I posted about a mailing I received from the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, showing my name and address and the names and addresses of a dozen of my neighbors and whether we'd voted in the last 2 elections. The letter says that "we're taking a new approach... sending this mailing to you and your neighbors to publicize who does and does not vote." We're told this is a matter of "public record" and that "After the June 5th election" — the recall — "public records will tell everybody who voted and who didn't." I found that quite disgusting.

A reader emailed me:
I got the same thing on donations about 2 weeks ago (see attached).  Ugh

A group of “researchers” using a Harvard University return address (108 Littauer Center – I checked and Harvard has that center.) is sending out campaign contribution information showing one Republican donor (me) and multiple (blinded) Democratic donors.  This reeks of intimidation tactics, i.e. “we have your name, etc and we will spotlight you”.  They claim this is information from “my neighborhood” – I know I live in a very Republican neighborhood so these names could be pulled from anywhere, e.g. the big UVA Democrat areas several miles from here.

Have others received similar notes?  They do it under the guise of “research” but the timing and tone seem very fishy if not illegal.  Is this research being funded by “stimulus” funds by the Federal Government?  I am sure there are other questions here.

I have not gone to their website for fear of tracking, etc.

I didn’t know what to do with it but your posting encourages me to at least share it with you.
Here are the attachments:

ADDED: In the Comments, The Drill SGT points to this article, from a couple days ago, in The Chronicle of Higher Education: "Hey, Here’s Who Your Neighbors Gave Money to. Sincerely, Harvard."
The research is being conducted by Ricardo Perez-Truglia, a graduate student in economics at Harvard, and Guillermo Cruces, deputy director of the Center for Distributive, Labor, and Social Studies at the National University of La Plata, in Argentina. According to the Web site for the project, the purpose of sending out the letters is to understand how “the open nature of information can affect contributions.”...

The researchers declined to offer more information about the study until it’s completed. They wouldn’t say how many letters they had sent or how many complaints they had received (though Truglia wrote in an e-mail that it was an “extremely small” number). The project was approved in advance by Harvard’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research, but, in a statement, the university said that a research-ethics committee would “review these complaints to determine if changes should be implemented to the study or, as all the planned mailings have already been sent, whether lessons learned from this study and the questions and complaints it generated can inform the design of future studies.”


Sydney said...

This is exactly the same letter I got, but with information specific to my neighborhood. The majority of my neighbors were Republican donors, too. And I live in northeast Ohio.

madAsHell said...

How could any political operative on either side of the aisle think of this as a good idea?

Of course, when their little game is exposed, they will blame the Republicans.

This just serves to validate my perceptions. This is desperation.

Alex said...

This is the thugocracy in action!

bagoh20 said...

This bothers conservatives much more for the same reason we generally don't display political bumper stickers. We all know that many liberals are emotional basket cases that will key your car, or flatten your tires for daring to express a contrary opinion in their world.

Consequently telling a bunch of them in your neighborhood that you support Republicans is de facto a threat. Use of this tactic is an admission that what I just said is true: liberals are often scary and violent.

To use such a tactic does not make much sense for Republicans. You can't threaten people that conservatives will physically harm you or your property for being a liberal. It just isn't true enough to be scary.

I think this tactic is a damning admission.

madAsHell said...

I'm averaging about 5 re-tries on the CAPCHA before I can find something legible.

Maybe I'm going cyborg....

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'm averaging about 5 re-tries on the CAPCHA before I can find something legible.

I just type WTF until I get something I can read.

This bothers conservatives much more for the same reason we generally don't display political bumper stickers. We all know that many liberals are emotional basket cases that will key your car, or flatten your tires for daring to express a contrary opinion in their world.

True story. I do not have bumper stickers on my car or express my political opinions on my personal property because my car HAS been keyed when in San Francisco for the mere crime of parking an SUV on the street.

This is not much of an issue for my hubby who has no reticence in expressing his political opinions. Nevertheless, when visiting in the Bay Area....he doesn't wear his ideas on his back, for safety's sake and to just be left alone.

Alex said...

So liberals are confirmed psychopaths.

Roger Sweeny said...

Littauer Center is where the Economics Department is located at Harvard. Most of the professors have their offices there, though no one has room 108 (I just checked).

Much of the rest of the first floor is the library.

kcom said...

It's because of all the PTSD

bagoh20 said...

"So liberals are confirmed psychopaths."

Whoever sent these flyers out thinks enough of them are so that it will scare people into submission. Otherwise there is no point.

I agree with their self-diagnosis.

JimMuy said...

I believe the Supreme Court has said only socialist have the right to keep their campaign contributions private.
Which makes me think I need to start a phony-bologna "socialist" party so Republicans can safely donate.

edutcher said...

Uncle Saul meets Solly and da boys.

The Demos must really be desperate.

vet66 said...

I have a license plate frame that says "VietNam Veteran" in solid brass on any SUV. I have a decal that says NRA and PGR (Patriot Guard Rider). I then keep an eye on my vehicle and drink a latte while I watch and wait.
so far these cowards have paused, reflected and walked on. we caught one coward reaching for the MB star and had a chat with him and watched him walk to his car. I wrote down his license plate number and he wasn't pleased.

The Drill SGT said...

Here is the thread at CHE. (love the acronym


They are apparently studying how public disclosure is going to supress contributions. Interesting thesis

traditionalguy said...

Big Brother is watching you. We know what you did last summer.

And a helpful reminder: your computer chip implant to help the government "keep you safe from bad things" is mandatory by your next birthday.

FleetUSA said...

@The Drill SGT

And who is funding this effort and policing the results.

Original Mike said...

This was approved by Harvard's IRB????? I have a hard time believing that.

The Drill SGT said...

Original Mike said...
This was approved by Harvard's IRB????? I have a hard time believing that.

My memory says Hahvard went 10-1 for Obama over McCain in 2008 contributions. How many Republicans do you think are on the IRB in the Social Sciences?

Original Mike said...

I've always been for disclosure of donations. My opinion is changing. It had never ocurred to me that it would be used for intimidation. Call me naive.

Synova said...

"They are apparently studying how public disclosure is going to supress contributions. Interesting thesis"

Certainly it is.

Maybe the next study approved can be a study of the impact of secret filming of gay college students.

Original Mike said...

An IRB is charged with policing ethics.

test said...

She's "researching" whether this tactic will help Democrats. She's a genius, by idnetifying a way to use government funds to help Democrats in a sufficiently deniable way she's guaranteed herself a job for life.

sakredkow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly from Georgia said...

Thank you for your service. I'm a fellow member of the GA PGR.


Mary Beth said...

I just type WTF until I get something I can read.

Next to the box for the CAPCHA text is a circular arrow. Click that to renew the CAPCHA. That's faster and easier than typing.

Larry J said...

I drive a Prius because I like getting 50 MPG. The stereotype is that all Prius drivers are liberals. I'm an exception. I considered putting a "Drill Baby Drill" or "Republican because everyone can't be on welfare" bumber sticker on my car but have not for fear of damage. Back in 2008, a man was arrested in Denver for keying cars with Republican bumper stickers. It happens more often than people getting caught.

ndspinelli said...

Chrissake, You folks must realize there is little privacy particularly involving campaign contributions. Haven't you folks used opensecrets.org. It's a great resource.

Paco Wové said...

"I drive a Prius because I like getting 50 MPG."

I hope you don't perpetually drive 5 - 10 mph under the speed limit like the Pious drivers around these parts.

Cedarford said...

Original Mike said...
I've always been for disclosure of donations. My opinion is changing. It had never ocurred to me that it would be used for intimidation. Call me naive.
Yep, databases can be a very bad thing if misused.
Imagine union officials or a University tenure Committee asking one of those "research firms" to give them the political donation history of union members or applicants for tenure.

Or a business or government agency that tells all its employees to get out and vote in an election they deem "important for our future" - then pulls up one of these lists to see which employees "failed to vote".

Anonymous said...

Spinelli, you know damn well that if a Rove or Koch tentacle had dared to do this, especially with government money, it would have been denounced by the Left in apocalyptic language.

n.n said...

Wonderful. We are all lab rats now, subject to the same involuntary experimentation. Harvard needs to review their ethical and perhaps moral standards.

Chip Ahoy said...

Be creative.

Okay. I'll try. They've used public information that is available and got so much of it wrong. But that is okay, it isn't about getting the information right.

Put together a team. Join the social networks, friend everybody possible to collect as much private public information as possible about the the people doing the study. As much as possible. Relevant or not. The Madison Arm too, there is local coordination, so all of those people who think their lives are mostly private and mostly controlled. Publish it all and mail it to all their neighbors and coworkers. Do the same thing they've done except much more targeted and much more aggressive. How much their house costs, how much they owe, all debts, cars and license numbers, pools if they have those, Estimated green footprint, Google photos of their properties, all multiple properties listed, all education levels, all grades if available, pets rescued or purebred, kids and photos of kids.

Chip S. said...

My first inclination was to think that people here were overreacting to a silly piece of research in the silly subfield of behavioral economics. But after visiting the public website for this project, I'm with the rest of you. Something stinks here.

First, the website says

You may also contact Ricardo Perez-Truglia's thesis project supervisor (bbady@fas.harvard.edu). But Belinda Bady (who owns that email address) can't be a "thesis supervisor" in the usual sense, because she's not a member of the faculty. She is, instead, some sort of administrative person who presumably "supervises" this "project" only in the sense that it falls under her general administrative duties such as--probably--overseeing operations that involve the mailing of surveys.

Or at least one might have presumed that, were it not for the fact that Belinda Bady is a Democratic Party activist.

So if in fact Bady is supervising this project, then there is indeed a high probability that it serves a partisan purpose.

Given the appearances here, doesn't this conflict with Harvard University's status as a tax-exempt organization?

Chip S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cedarford said...

The electronic databases that "disclose" in the name of openess and political transparancy are in obvious conflict with the honored tradition of the secret ballot...the privacy we feel the individual voter should have to follow their beliefs without retaliation.

Imagine I am a managing partner at a large law firm doing 100s of millions in "Green Energy" gambits. I have told all associates, legal secretaries, interns, partners that it is crucial we al give to the max for Obama, that we all encourge our spouses to vote for Obama and the Democrat Congressional ticket.

After the election - I send 1100 dollars to a database firm that will issue me a report on all 78 employees and their spouses. On my desk in 3 weeks.
I want to know:
1. The amounts each employee gave.
2. Party affiliation of all employees and their spouses....because if they just say they love Obama doesn't mean it is true ..they could be lying.
3. The complete voting history of each employee and spouse. Who is reliable, and who isn't.

Then I can use that information to better shape the firm with the right people who are politically like me and out to grow our Green Energy client list and get lots of money.

Paco Wové said...

Chip S., I noticed those same odd things... the "thesis advisor" isn't listed on either the permanent or visiting faculty lists for the Economics Dep't. - rather, she's just listed as "Director of Administration", which I don't recognize at all (nothing we ever had in any of my science departments).

Then there's her LinkedIn work info*:
Director at Harvard University

Chief of Party at The International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Regional Director at The Clinton Foundation (yes, that Clinton)

*Openness, baby!

Larry J said...

Paco Wové said...
"I drive a Prius because I like getting 50 MPG."

I hope you don't perpetually drive 5 - 10 mph under the speed limit like the Pious drivers around these parts.

Hell, no! I drive at or slightly above the posted limits, conditions permitting. I make no attempts at hypermiling or any of that nonsense. I drive it like any other car.

Last month, my wife and I took two long road trips in it totalling about 5000 miles. I reset one of the trip odometers before the first trip. We averaged 50.2 MPG at posted highway speeds for the entire distance. Not too shabby. The worst leg was when we encountered strong headwinds in Wyoming. The trip computer was reporting as low as 38.3 MPG while driving 75 MPH into strong headwinds. The car's mileage drops significantly with strong headwinds.

Anonymous said...

The "researchers" claim to be interested in the impact of public disclosure of campaign contributions. However, there is a world of difference between information being public in the sense that I can obtain it simply, for example, going to a website, and the active aggregation and targeted dissemination of information that I have not requested. To conflate these two things as identical because they are both contain public information is absurd.

Robert J. said...

It's a straightforward project to see whether (and how) you can intimidate people into not contributing to political campaigns.

Three important factual questions arise: First, did any of the people receiving these letters give informed consent to participate in this research? Second, did the researchers only send the letter to Republicans, or did Democrats get an inverse letter that implied they were surrounded by Republicans? Third, are the names and locations given on the letters actual people, or is the whole thing just made up lies?

Here is the website for Harvard's committee on the use of human subjects in research:

As the researchers' website says, you can send inquiries about the ethics of the research to "Committee Officer Jane Calhoun by phone (617-495-5459) or by email (jcalhoun@fas.harvard.edu)." You'll see her name listed on the Harvard page if you scroll down.

Original Mike said...

"You may also contact Ricardo Perez-Truglia's thesis project supervisor (bbady@fas.harvard.edu). ... Belinda Bady is a Democratic Party activist."

If this were the medical field you could inform NIH, who would be in a position to suspend research grants to Harvard for failure to maintain ethical standards. I don't know if there's a complimentary funding agency in the Social Sciences.

Anonymous said...

Larry: I drive a Prius because I like getting 50 MPG. The stereotype is that all Prius drivers are liberals. I'm an exception. I considered putting a "Drill Baby Drill" or "Republican because everyone can't be on welfare" bumber sticker on my car...

Oh man, I'd love to see that.

...but have not for fear of damage.

Yeah, too bad. Fortunately for the douchebags, the Bad Guys have too much respect for private property to go around plastering "Drill Baby Drill" over those "Coexist" signs on the cars of the Righteous.

Chip S. said...

I don't know if there's a complimentary funding agency in the Social Sciences.

I'm certain that the Econ faculty have a metric shit-ton of NSF funds.

MDIJim said...

Me too, I used to be for public disclosure but not anymore. Once upon a time, probably never, private lives were private and some pretty good people ran for and won office. Look at what Sarah Palin has gone through! That is why the Republican field was so poor this year even though they have a good shot. Since this is happening in Wisconsin, i suspect that the unions are engaging in intimidation.

I'm Full of Soup said...

I think this Harvard grad student needs a really good ass whipping.

vet66 said...

Kelly from GA: Thanks for your patriotism and your support. Ride safe and stand tall. See you in D.C. one day. Occupy D.C. with Rolling Thunder and watch the politicians run. Love the Marine saluting all the flags and riders. Carry on!

Synova said...

All I needed to know about human behavior I learned from MMORPGs...

Well, I suppose that's not true, but the arguments at the CHE site are right out of the MMORPG manners book.

To explain... the earliest MMORPGs could barely run, and they were very new, so there was a great deal of cooperation required between players and any number of ways one could screw over her compatriots... "kill steal" or "train" or heal the monster until the other player died. The Wild, Wild, West. But if you were a jerk your reputation suffered greatly. Mostly people tried to be polite, announce a train to zone, and ask nicely to group for a camped monster instead of kill steal.

In newer generations of MMORPG's things have been streamlined. You seldom get stuck inside rocks or in a death loop where you drown before you're all the way logged in. You often *can't* kill steal, take someone elses mining node, or heal the monster. Mobs no longer "train" over the whole zone wiping out parties of newbies. Jerkiness is constrained by the rules.

And something else is true, too.

If something is ALLOWED there is a strong tendency by players to behave and claim outright that they must be meant to do those things.

The smarty-pantses at CHE are at the moral level of juvenile computer gamers. It's *legal* and the information is *public* therefore there can be no objection, no claim that anyone has basis to feel put upon. If it wasn't entirely acceptable, well then, it would obviously be prohibited.

It's a sad thing, really, if we simply have given up having any sense of propriety that isn't compelled by government.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

The WI thing is repulsive enough, but the Harvard "study" is just bizarre. What are the researchers supposed to learn by sending this info to random people? How much violence occurs when you learn that your neighbor donated to Obama (or Romney, as the case may be)? A "study" including an expensive mailing with no follow-up mechanism is piss-poor social science.

wv: yrentit 187. Yrentit? I didn't.

J said...

Push back 10x as hard.

People should respond to these letters like this:

1. I know your organization's address.

2. I know how to rent a truck.

3. I know how to use fertilizer.

Now, f*ck off.

FleetUSA said...

I say push back by writing another check for my favorite candidates.


p.s. In my Prius I like to blare out My City Was Gone

sakredkow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sakredkow said...
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Henry said...

Key graf, from the researchers' web site:

Receipt of one of these letters means nothing more than that the recipient was chosen by an automated computer program to receive information about campaign donations in his or her neighborhood. This includes individuals that donated to both parties, and it is not biased in any way. The randomization is the gold standard of scientific research, and we guarantee that this study is no exception.

This is checkable.

BTW, the Clinton Foundation is a 501(c)3 and Ms. Bady's tenure there ended in 2009. One of the Clinton Foundation's initiatives is in Malaria and HIV/AIDs prevention.

My conclusion is that this study looks like a waste of time that verges on harassment (random acts of harassment are still harassment), but it isn't -- yet -- targeted.

You can be assured that the findings will be.

bagoh20 said...

Henry, I agree because as I stated earlier the threat is only real from one side, so even if randomized only conservative donors will feel threatened. Thus, the ulterior motive works splendidly, and the cover fools no one.

Saint Croix said...

Obama sets the tone for this. He has an enemies list and he's checking it twice. Obama is Nixon.

pst314 said...

"the purpose of sending out the letters is to understand how 'the open nature of information can affect contributions.'..."

Let's collect and publish personal information about these researchers, in order to 'understand how the open nature of information can affect academia'. Wouldn't that be fun? :-)

Henry said...

bagoh20 -- I actually had your comment in mind when I read the article.

I do think it will cut both ways in that most people want to go along to get along. Assuming that the researchers discover the obvious -- that people don't like being called out -- it will be used by Democrat party operatives to shame Republican donors in Democrat majority neighborhoods ... and it will be used by Republican operatives to shame Democrat donors in Republican majority neighborhoods.

However, as you pointed out, some groups might object more to being called out than others. It could be political -- conservative vs. liberal; It could be regional or even racial -- which would take us down a different dark road.

But whatever the findings, the means are questionable. Names and donations are part of the public record. That doesn't mean it is moral to broadcast that information, randomized trial or no. When you name names, YOU (Ricardo Perez-Truglia and Guillermo Cruces) are accountable, NOT a computer program.

And I would hope they consider this question: Why are donations part of the public record? Because of campaign finance law, beloved by people who think themselves liberal.

Rich Vail said...

Synova makes some very pertinent points. These "researchers" aren't from this country...they're from a country (Argentina) that doesn't permit the free use of information the way the US does...I'd suspect that if you took a look at their political backgrounds, they'd be considered very far left wing here...

That being said, they are abusing our system of information for intimidation of political opponents.

george said...

This sort of thing has always been a tactic of the left. Pretty soon you will all have to report to your block captains so they can go over your crimes against the collective and provide the proper reeducation. It all just happens in stages.

mbabbitt said...

Can anyone say "disenfanchisement"?

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Looking on opensecrets.org, it seems that donors are only listed by city and zip code, but not street address. Donation amounts are given.

Would local (city, county) records in Wisconsin have the amount and the party donated to?

What am I missing here?

Glen Wishard said...

Whatever the value of this study, I think the intent of it is innocent, unlike the Greater Wisconsin PF letter. It lacks the bluster and crudity of the latter.

You can look up Perez-Truglia's papers at harvard.edu and judge for yourself, but I think he's just insensitive to how this type of thing might be interpreted in the current environment.

DA Munroe said...

@Glen Wishard: The stated intent is to suppress donations. That's the up-front purpose! How is that "innocent"? You can't influence political donations just out of scientific curiosity, any more than you can infect people with diseases or make hoax bomb calls, just to see what happens.

This could well go down in history as one of a famous unethical experiment. If it is pursued, that is.

The Balloonatic said...

Glen Wishard

You're nucking futz if you think Perez-Truglia's papers are neutral. He's a left wing operative of the first water. Have you read all his papers? He's a committed redistributionist.Check them out here.


Inspect this paper from him: "Biased Perceptions of Income Distribution and Preferences for Redistribution: Evidence from a Survey Experiment
with Guillermo Cruces and Martin Tetaz"

The man is a commie and is using his educational credentials to influence an election, you dolt.

Glen Wishard said...

Well, I said you could judge for yourselves. So judge for yourselves. But will he go down in commie history? I doubt it.

David Badash said...

This article by Ann Althouse is an excellent example of journalistic malpractice. Rather than do any research whatsoever, rather than contact Harvard, rather than use the resources at her disposal -- being a recognized public name and a lawyer -- Althouse simply stoked the fires of fear and paranoia, and then made it worse by publishing a reader's communication that -- without one ounce of evidence -- goes as far as blaming the Obama stimulus for funding this research? Really?

Unsurprisingly, the readers' comments here, for the most part, are paranoid, un-educated, ignorant, and radically partisan. Notably, Althouse doesn't bother to intercede, but allows her initial uneducated and uneducating post to be the kindling that fuels these readers' fires.

(Ms. Althouse, what, exactly, can you claim to have taught your readers by writing this post? Are they more educated by reading this? Are they better-informed? Do they have more knowledge now?)

It truly is amazing that someone of Althouse's background and level of intelligence and education would resort to this hyperbolic fueling.

Frankly, this exercise in paranoia-stoking is far more egregious than the misguided Harvard study.

Shame on Ann Althouse, and you all.

jakee308 said...

Isn't it interesting the the most vociferous about a Theocracy have created their own where failure to believe in the faith is a criminal offense with corporate punishment. And the same individuals who cry discrimination at the drop of a statistic are the most bigoted. Now we see that those who champion anti bully laws are also the biggest bullies.

Scratch a leftist and find an elitist tyrant thug with delusions of grandeur.

Yes that's a description of Obama too.

ignatzk said...

Odds are the graduate student is in a union. Where does his funding come from and who gets full access to the results of his "research"?

Commenter Badash with his "the readers' comments here, for the most part, are paranoid, un-educated, ignorant, and radically partisan." seems typical of a Left who's preening "we know best because we are superior" arrogance and self-righteous indignation (shame shame) are the pheromones of distrust.

Glen Wishard said...

Jeez, David Badash. For somebody who maligns other people's education, I don't think much of your reading comprehension skills, or your temperament.

Althouse doesn't "publish" these comments. Crazy people like me wander in here from the fever swamps and publish ourselves. I suspect you know that.

Synova said...

Oh gawd, David is funny. Or maybe it's just that it's a quarter to 5 (read Kremlin Games from Baen e-books... it was longer than I expected).

Really my dear man!

You take everything far too seriously and so lose all perspective or ability to examine the heart of an issue.

The Harvard information was given. Legitimate explanations were read and understood. If you've some input to contribute, explaining how it really is quite all right to invade the privacy of random people, without their consent, by all means offer it.

You could even argue that the study being done, if it shows that this sort of invasion of privacy has a chilling effect on democratic participation, is valuable and worthwhile. Having it "officially" would have more impact than the gut feeling that ever more intimidation related to political participation is a *bad* thing.

Make an argument!

I doubt many are interested in your histrionics.

Oh, and the proper way to phrase it is, "And you! A law professor!"

Largo said...

Shame on -ME- David?

David Foster said...

About 2 weeks ago, I sent an email to Jane Calhoun, who was listed as an "ethics" contact on the Harvard website about this project, with some questions. I've received no response.

Erik Robert Nelson said...

My first thought was that this couldn't possibly pass human subjects review, because you cannot possibly get informed consent from participants. By merely opening the letter, you're participating. Given that this study is all about intimidation, they know exactly what they're doing. No honest and ethical social science department would approve such a thing. Usually human subjects reviews are *brutal.* They tend to be very picky about what you can and can't do, and consent is usually the first item on the list.

The Madison Project said...

this is the email I sent to all email addresses on their [ah hem] "website" -
Good morning -
There is an interesting blog piece about your study, and the possible effects it is having in an already divisive election. Since your stated goal is to “study”, and presumably understand, “the implications of the public’s awareness about the open nature of campaign contributions”, I’m sure you will want to maintain the attitude of transparency and full disclosure. You also state you are not affiliated with any political candidate or political party. In the interest of absolute full disclosure, and since you work at a taxpayer supported college, I am asking for your full disclosure as to political party, campaign contributions in the form of both money and volunteer time.

Although you believe this to be “a very important issue” there is no information about why you believe this to be an important issue. What prior studies have lead you to believe this is an important issue? I’m not aware of any intimidation by conservatives, but we are all aware of intimidation by the progressive left against their opponents.

I look forward to your prompt and full response.

Maggi Cook

Mimi said...

The phrase in the letter (all caps and blackboxed, no less) that caught my eye was


This phrase seems research-designed to intimidate the recipient, as does the fact that the recipient is the lone member of their party, with all other names listed being of the opposing party.

I'm saying this with no idea as to whether it was sent to dems and repubs equally or not. It seems unethical either way.

I went to a state school, and this would not have passed muster at my SS IRB.

Toad Trend said...

This is the soft tyranny that has been talked about by many, often poo-pooed by leftists as hysterics.

Liberalism is indeed a mental illness.

Shanna said...

My first thought was that this couldn't possibly pass human subjects review, because you cannot possibly get informed consent from participants. By merely opening the letter, you're participating. ... Usually human subjects reviews are *brutal.*

Indeed. This was my thought as well. If all the paperwork isn't there and the i's aren't dotted/t's aren't crossed with any human subject project your research program can get shut down. I can't imagine how this one qualifies. Are they not subject to the same rules the medical side is?

RebeccaH said...

Never in my life did I think I would see tactics like this used in a political contest. In America! We are being turned into a banana republic by the very people we trusted to represent us.

A Conservative Teacher said...

Back down a bit people.

Information on whether someone voters or not is easily available, and pretty much every candidate who is running for election already has it and uses it to target mailings, door-to-door, etc.

And information on who donates to candidates and how much they donate is also easily found on opensecrets.org, probably as a result of the campaign finance legislation passed in the last couple years.

There is no 'intimidation' in having this information. Now, if it is being used to 'intimidate' you, that's a different story- but I didn't see a whole lot of evidence of that in your post.

Calm down people.

Matt Sablan said...

"The empirical tests included in the research design will shed light on the advantages and disadvantages of alternative disclosure policies, which we believe is a very important issue."

-- Well, that must mean they have a list of the randomized people who received mailings. I want to review their results, so I've emailed them asking for the list of the recipients of the letters so that we can determine if they are adequately randomized, along with verifying that the information they received is valid.

The Drill SGT said...

Thanks Althouse for the mention. I'll put it on my CV :)

A Conservative Teacher said...
And information on who donates to candidates and how much they donate is also easily found on opensecrets.org, probably as a result of the campaign finance legislation passed in the last couple years.

Addresses are not available at opensecrets. You need to datamine or buy lists from political researchers/parties.

As many of us have said, the purpose of the research is to learn how to suppress political speech.

Chip S. said...

@ConTeach--Sites like spokeo are also just repackaging publicly available information about people. And yet lots of people are sufficiently bothered by spokeo that they go to the trouble of opting out.

Yes, lots of information about you is "easily available" in the sense that someone determined to find it can do so. But that's a long way from having information about you mass-mailed to people who wouldn't otherwise have bothered to seek it.

As far as "intimidation" goes, read the stated purpose of this research project. Its intent is to estimate the effect of this type of information propagation on your subsequent behavior. And if you don't find the wording and the graphic design of this "survey instrument" intimidating, your receptors aren't nearly as sensitive as many peoples'.

Now ask yourself: What is the point of such a study? It does not ask how the current degree of availability of info availability affects people's behavior--which would be an interesting policy question. Instead it examines the impact of something that has not been done before--and would likely only ever be done an organized political group.

IMO, this project isn't policy research, it's a consulting gig for political operatives.

The Drill SGT said...

FYI, I did a couple of searches on 2008 cycle Hahvard donations

30-1 funding for Obama over McCain

954 records for Obama
23 for McCain (must be those wealthy GOP types)

Donald Sensing said...

Hmm, seems the most obvious conclusion to draw from the content of the letter is that they want the recipient to give more money to Republicans! Just look at the amounts in the column.

Paco Wové said...

"IMO, this project isn't policy research, it's a consulting gig for political operatives."

I suspect it's both. After all, it would be very useful for some people to know if this sort of mass mailing does indeed modify political donation behavior. You don't want to put a lot of effort into attempts to intimidate voters if they doesn't work, right?

So this is step 1: take a random group of voters and try to intimidate them. Step 2 will be re-analyzing the same voters' donation behavior in the next few election cycles and see if that behavior has been altered to a statistically significant degree.

Paco Wové said...

arrrggh. "...if they don't work..."

Chip S. said...

it would be very useful for some people to know if this sort of mass mailing does indeed modify political donation behavior.

That's precisely my point, Paco. The people for whom that's useful information are political operatives--by definition. There's no other reason to spend the money and effort on something like this.

Harvard's econ department is surprisingly non-lefty overall. It's shocking to me that it would let its name be attached to a piece of schlock like this.

RedTea BlueWaters said...

Democrats call for "public financing" of campaign or much stricter contribution limits, and have talked about amending the constitution if necessary.

The most common Republican retort: allow unlimited contributions as long as there is "disclosure".

But that means THIS.

Paco Wové said...

Understood, Chip. My spouse and I get into conversations where I pop off something that seems like a brilliant insight, and she pauses and gives me that irritated look and replies, "That's what I just said." I guess I'm starting to do it to everyone now.

I will not attempt to claim Larry's good point for myself -- or, at least, what I think is Larry's good point -- which is, most here agree that this counts as an intimidatory douchebag tactic, but could/would you modify the law to make it illegal? I don't see how you can.

Chip S. said...

It's a good question, Paco.

IANAL, but maybe there could be a provision allowing a contributor to opt out of the default mode of having his information published. In such cases, the information would still be available but only through a FOIA request for each person.

That way, it wouldn't be cost-effective to deal in wholesale info gathering, but people who were likely to be big-money contributors could still be monitored.

Mark Wiehenstroer said...

The reader cited in the post said - "I have not gone to their website for fear of tracking, etc." .
I hate to see "fear" being a factor here.
Some thoughts -
1) you're already being "tracked" in some sort of way,
2) use the library computer to check out the web site, and
3) set up your computer (or have a friend help you) with an extension on your browser to prevent tracking. I use one from abine.com but there's others available.

Tulsa Jack said...

I'm a Harvard honors graduate, and stopped donating to the place years ago, including to my class for the 50th reunion I chose not to attend with Barney Frank. The University is running on empty. "Veritas," indeed. What a farce.

SarahW said...

Donations are one thing. Ballots should be secret from ones neighbors. "We know whether you voted last summer " letters are something else again .

Alex said...

Why should the vote be anonymous when there is so much at stake. I.e., union pension benefits SACRED!!!

caseym54 said...

Clearly there needs to be a federal civil rights law preventing the use of public election information to threaten or harass. In California this came to a head with picketing of businesses where one or more employees contributed to Prop 8.

caseym54 said...

Clearly also the reporting floor for contributions needs to be raised substantially. Perhaps $10K.

richard mcenroe said...

Perhaps we just need to cut to the chase and start painting big yellow GOP symbols on Republican homes and businesses...

Eric said...

I got a similar letter from the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund yesterday only not listing contributions but voting history. My daughter was listed at the top of the list of 14 of my neighbors who had voted in the last 2 elections, showing she had not. Then they remind that after this election, public records will tell everyone who voted and who didn't.

At the top of the letter in tiny type is the United Steel Workers Local 318 logo. We are in a very active recall process funded by local and national unions so they must think this letter will encourage voters to support liberal Tom Barrett who is trying to unseat Scott Walker.

Idiots all.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the recent tactic some anti-gun types are using against people with Concealed carry licenses for weapons. Some journalists are requesting the entire list of ccl names from local police in order to publish them. Now this is a public record but the intent of a ccl is to quietly work with the authorities to prove you are a law abiding citizen who will be responsible with a deadly weapon. Publishing the names of battered women, ex-police officers and others with a license does not seem to have any other purpose than to discourage people from getting one. Like publishing the names of people convicted of driving drunk or arrested as a john.

Mike Rice said...

I'm beginning to think Greater Wisconsin Political Fund is a political troublemaker. Either that or their study is to discover how much paranoia and political distrust has been sown in the state of Wisconsin since the Walker business began after Nov., 2010. My GWPF circular was headlined "Scott Walker won in 2010 because too many people stayed home!" My name was at the top and a group of assumed neighbors without phone #s, and whether they voted on Nov. 8 or Nov. 10th (?!), but with addresses. The headline suggests it is a democratic circular, but I'm democratic and I'm suspicious. I checked the names of the others and their addresses. I don't want to call them because I don't want to urge anyone but Dems to vote. I don't know that these folks ARE dems. If this is NOT a dem voter list, then I won't help. I don't want a large turnout for the GOP, would prefer instead one for the dems. Six of the 13 names with addresses don't have phone #s in the phone book. It would be easy to determine I was a Dem because I've contributed to Dem campaigns. So maybe a GOP spoiler is trying to put me up to calling Republican faithful to the polls on Tuesday, June 5th. I don't believe this is a real study, but I believe the net effect could DAMAGE GENUINE GET OUT THE VOTE EFFORTS BY DEMOCRATS, which is the circular's intention. I saw some google gibberish suggesting some of the family that once owned Schlitz beer contributed to the Fund that sent this. The Harvard tag seems to be unlikely too. I say it is intended to foil real Democratic get out the vote efforts because, despite the claims on this blog, I see no buried attempt to foil the GOP get out the vote movement here, despite the claims made in blog comments. This first class mail circular reminds me of the bogus, fact-free online Emails circulated by the Far Right Noise Machine on the Internet. I conclude this is an attempt to foil a Democratic Get Out the Vote plan in the last moments before the Wisconsin election Tuesday, June 5th. Will the Journal-Sentinel try to unmask the perpetrators? Probably not. I urge those receiving this missive to hold onto it as a keepsake to see what develops, but don't do anything about it. And DON't TAKE IT SERIOUSLY EITHER! Mike Rice aka Ida Tarbell in JSonline comments, 1671 crescent lane, apt 3, Sparta, Wisconsin 54656 6083015227 P.S. My nephew Nate had Althouse as a Prof in Law School at UW

Rich E said...

I have had a couple of studies undergo the review at my University and it can be very exacting.
We have a mixed group comprised of a lawyer, a medical doctor a senior member of sponsored research and several more all whom have done studies before.
Usually we get hammered on informed consent so I do not see how they got the study approved in that study members are not volunteers to the study.
Part of the format looks like one used for random surveys but that is not often seen being done by students?
Next he is a PhD candidate and so his research should be supervised by his committee chair unless it is not part of his PhD research. Usually a PhD candidate has no extra time for any outside work so this raises several big flags in my mind.