2018, Michigan, Michigan Democrats — March 28, 2018 at 7:56 pm

Michigan Progressive blog booted from email mailing list service for adding scads of emails without consent


Repeat after me: Primaries are good. Primaries are good. Primaries are good…

I used to believe that primaries were a waste of precious fundraising dollars and that they unnecessarily bloodied up our general election candidate. But in 2014, after Mark Schauer was defeated in his run for governor after facing no primary opponent, I changed my views. I came to understand that primaries sharpen our candidates and prepare them to do battle with our true ideological foes: the Republicans.

However, this is only true if the primary campaign doesn’t turn ugly with one or more of the candidates and/or their supporters tearing down their Democratic rivals. In this circumstance, we find Democrats doing the work of Republicans for them by diminishing the winner of the primary.

In a year when it looks very much like a progressive tsunami may be developing, it should be pretty easy for Democrats to run clean campaigns with a focus on the despicable things Republicans are doing. However, here in Michigan, the Attorney General race has turned decidedly ugly, mainly due to the efforts of the publishers of the new progressive blog, Michigan Progressive.

How has a website that has only been around for a year and has only published 36 posts been able to almost single-handedly turn a statewide race into a one-sided mudslinging debacle? That was a question I pondered quite a bit until this past week. At first, I tipped my blogger chapeau to them for rising to prominence so quickly and being able to influence a statewide election in this way. Of their 36 published posts, five of them are about Pat Miles, one of the two candidates for Michigan Attorney General. I began to see their posts shared on social media and they even began appearing in both of my email inboxes. “These guys are good!” I thought.

Then I began to give it more thought. I was getting unsolicited email from their site at both of my email addresses despite never having signed up for their email list at either of them. What’s more, I received six emails from them and every single one of them was an anti-Pat Miles email. There were no emails about the other 31 posts on their site that don’t mention Miles or about Miles’ opponent, Dana Nessel. The only thing they used their email list for was to trash Pat Miles with provocative clickbait titles. My wife began receiving them unbidden, as well.

Earlier this week, the two of us began to ask our friends on Facebook if they, too, had been signed up for the Michigan Progressive email list without their consent and, sure enough, dozens responded that they had. Many were not pleased. “It’s basically liberal Breitbart,” one commenter wrote. “I unsubscribed because I found them offensive. I was told that the sender of the emails was another candidate’s cousin,” wrote another.

As it turns out, one of the writers at Michigan Progressive, Liano Sharon, IS a cousin of Dana Nessel. He along with Sam Pernick are responsible for much of the content on the site. Yesterday, I reached out to them and asked where they had gotten all of the emails they had added to their mailing list without consent, inquiring specifically if they had harvested then from the Voter Activation Network (VAN) database used by the Democratic Party, something that would be expressly forbidden.

“We followed all proper procedures in obtaining email addresses,” Pernick told me, saying that they did NOT get the email addresses from the VAN. “Many organizations and political individuals shared their lists with us, as is common practice in the progressive community. Many people receive unsolicited politically-related email for various groups, campaigns, and organizations. It’s a 1st amendment right. It is not spam. I would hope that a fellow publisher would sympathize with this.”

In other words, Pernick admitted that they were adding emails to their list without the consent of the people being added. What’s more, he thinks that this is just fine and his “1st amendment right.”

Before I go any further, I want to make if very clear that I have yet to make a decision in this race (and still have three weeks to do so before the Michigan Democratic Party’s spring Endorsement Convention.) I haven’t found Pat Miles, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, to be a particularly exciting candidate and it’s clear that he has evolved in his political views over the years to the point where he can call himself a Democrat. Michigan Progressive rips Miles for changing positions, some of them in the course of the campaign, and this is certainly something that some folks are bothered by. I tend to be okay with people coming around to the right positions and recall that even my favorite Democrat, Barack Obama, came to support marriage equality while he was in office.

Dana Nessel, on the other hand is running a much edgier campaign and has been firm about her progressive stances on things like the legalization of cannabis. As one of the attorneys responsible for the passage of marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court, she has earned her place in American history. She’s running a spirited, creative campaign, and, if I’m honest, the thought of replacing the bigoted Bill Schuette as our Attorney General with lesbian fills me with joy. That said, I completely disagreed with her drive to put the civil rights for transgender Michiganders up for a vote and watched as she blatantly lied to a room full of hundreds of people when she claimed Jocelyn Benson, the current candidate for Michigan Secretary of State, had helped write the ballot language she was proposing. I later learned that this was completely false from none other than Jocelyn Benson herself.

So, I am still deciding. I have friends who support both candidates and have friends who work for both candidates.

Pernick wrote to me a couple of more times yesterday, again suggesting that I was somehow attacking his First Amendment rights by asking about the source of all the emails he and his team had added to their mailing list without consent.

There are a few points to be made here. I have been blogging for almost a decade and half, and as “Eclectablog” for ten years. Never in that time have I ever added a single email address to our lists without the explicit consent of the person being added. I have never been asked for my email list by other “progressive groups” and would not share my list if they did. The same is true for the email list of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party where I am the Chair.

Despite Pernick’s claim, it is decidedly NOT common practice among legitimate progressive groups to share email lists so that they can sign up people without consent. I’ll concede that many political candidates do it and, like most of you, I HATE it. I am constantly unsubscribing from the email lists of candidates I never signed up for.

The idea that “it’s a 1st amendment right” to send email spam is, however, ludicrous.

Michigan Progressive should come forward and reveal which progressive groups are giving away the email addresses of progressives in Michigan. I, for one, would like to know which groups are doing this so that I can ask them to knock it off or remove me from their list.

Finally, last night I got a final email from Pernick with the Subject line “Update on Michigan Progressive emailing”. “We take the complaints and comments of our readers seriously,” he wrote. “After receiving several complaints, we decided to temporarily suspend our mass emails in order to re-examine our email policy. After the review is complete, we will make any adjustments, as appropriate, moving forward.”

I found this quite interesting spin and it can be characterized as nothing else but spin, quite frankly. After my wife and I posted on Facebook asking if others had been added to the Michigan Progressive email list without their consent, people began posting the email address of Michigan Progressive’s email mailing list provider, SendinBlue, where people could complain. I sent in a complaint to them this morning and quickly received an email back informing me that they had “permanently blocked” Michigan Progressive and that “they will no longer be able to use SendinBlue to send their emails.” In other words, the “re-examination of their email policy” that Pernick refers to appears to focus mainly on what other email mailing list service to use now that they’ve gotten the boot from SendinBlue.

It’s very clear that the publishers and contributors at Michigan Progressive want Dana Nessel to win the primary. Off the blog, many of them are active surrogates for her campaign and many of them are active in the MDP’s Progressive Caucus which as endorsed Nessel. That is all well and good; many progressive sites do endorse candidates. However, using unethical methods to make your voice larger than it has earned crosses a line in my book. What first appeared to be a blog that was so good at social media and promotion that it had gained quick popularity now turns out to be a Potemkin Village. They’ve made themselves seem much larger than they actually are by signing up scads of people who never asked to be signed up and then used that list to pump exclusively anti-Pat Miles content into people’s email inboxes. Not pro-Dana Nessel content, mind you. Anti-Pat Miles content only. And much of it is, frankly, of dubious value. There’s no legitimate evidence that Miles is anti-LGBTQ, for example, and there’s no evidence that he’s a “corporatist” as the writers at Michigan Progressive claim.

Again, there are legitimate issues to be raised in this campaign. Some folks will be put off by what they see as Miles’ “flip flopping” while others will appreciate that he’s open to changing his position when he becomes more knowledgeable. Some folks will see a boring campaign while others will see an understated but talented prosecutor who honed his craft as a U.S. Attorney. Both are legitimate positions and neither justifies the sort of friendly fire that the writers at Michigan Progressive are aiming at him.

Primaries are good so long as they remain civil and focus on our real opponents, the odious Republicans who are taking our country in the wrong direction. I only wish Michigan Progressive and those who buy into their modus operandi would focus just half as much energy on Republicans as they do Democrats. It takes coalitions to win elections and their approach is creating division and acrimony at a moment in time when Democrats have the most to gain.

And, if I do end up voting for Dana Nessel, it won’t be because Michigan Progressive trashed her opponent, it will be despite that.

UPDATE: Sam Pernick has a post up at Michigan Progressive saying they were NOT booted from their email mailing list service. This is not true. Here’s a screenshot of the email I received from SendinBlue confirming that they have been “permanently blocked” and “will no longer be able to use SendinBlue to send their emails”:

Click image for a larger version

UPDATE 2: Michigan Progressive has posted images showing that they voluntarily deleted their account at SendinBlue and were not booted off. They provide no explanation as to why they did this. Some are suggesting it’s akin to shouting, “You can’t fire me, I QUIT!” I personally have no idea and can come up with no logical reason for them to do this other than to avoid having their account terminated due to violating SendinBlue’s terms of service which explicitly states that SendinBlue “reserves the right to decline or limit service to any account that does not respect our policies, legislation governing business communications, or distributes unsolicited communications.” The fact remains that they unethically added huge numbers of people to their mailing list without consent and it appears they are now backpedaling wildly.

[CC photo credit: Ville Oksanen | Flickr (adapted by Chris Savage)]