Tag Archives: Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Right wing WashingtonVotes.org Lacks Privacy Policy

If you want your communication between you and your Washington State Legislator to be private do not use WashingtonVotes.org because they don’t have a privacy policy. If you want your search results for Legislative bills and any other legislative searches to be private and not sold to private parties, do not do your search through the Washington Policy Center’s WashingtonVotes.org website. Use the official Washington State website at http://www.leg.wa.gov/ instead.

One can not accuse WashingtonVotes.org of not warning you. Each page contains a “terms of use” link at the bottom. Here’s the language that says your communication with your Legislator is not private and can be sold and given to third parties.

“By posting comments, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication on, with, or through the Washington Votes web site, you are granting USA Votes, Inc. a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, irrevocable, unrestricted, worldwide license to:
Use, copy, sublicense, adapt, transmit, publicly perform or display any such communication.
Sublicense or transfer to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication.

The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, “

Contrast this with the “Privacy Notice Information ” posted on the official state legislative website at http://www.leg.wa.gov/.

If you use a Representative’s or Senator’s email form, the address you provide is used to determine your voting district. The address and content that you submit via the member’s email form are forwarded to the receiving member. Your name, address, and the content of your message are not retained on legislative systems for any other purpose.”

The WashingtonVotes.org disclaimer says that

“This site is owned and operated by USA Votes, Inc. and contains material which is derived in whole or in part from material supplied by USA Votes, Inc. and other sources, and is protected by international copyright and trademark laws.”

While the site states that,

USA Votes, Inc. may provide links and pointers to Internet sites maintained by third parties. USA Votes, Inc. does not operate or control in any respect any information, products or services on these third-party sites.”

The link to communicate to your Legislator is not identified as an external link but is part of the site. So it is covered by the “terms of use” agreement.

In addition the site can collect information on you when you use other services it has. These include when you use its ability to search:

“….. every bill, amendment, roll call vote and voice vote.
Ability to track all the votes of a particular legislator, or search by bill number, category or keyword.
Ability to view all the bills and amendments introduced by a particular legislator.
Ability to post a public comment, view others’ comments, and participate in citizen surveys on each bill.
Automatically e-mail legislators or others about a bill.
Ability to follow action in any one or more of 50 different categories of legislation (such as Education or Land Use or Taxes).
Ability to sign up for e-mail notifications of action on any bill or subject area of interest, including new bill introductions.

The site can also track when you click “to register to vote”.

What WashingtonVotes.org is set up to do is collect information on you and your legislative interests and concerns. It is spying on you and your communications with your legislator as well as that of others who use the site. The site is set up to collect information and help in identifying and microtargeting voter’s positions on issues and their specific concerns. And it is being done by right wing free market conservative interests.

WashingtonVotes.org states that it is

“a free public service of Washington Policy Center, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization that does not lobby or endorse candidates”

However there is more to this than meets the eye. The Washington Policy Center is actually part of a national group of so called “free market” think tanks that oppose government regulation and taxes. Former Republican candidate Jack Kemp is quoted on WashingtonVotes ‘ website as calling them “The Heritage Foundation of the Northwest”

The information gleamed from Washington Votes.org becomes the property of USAVotes Inc. They can use and sell the information they collect on you about your legislative communications and issue searches through the website to others, like the National Rifle Association or the US Chamber of Commerce or marketing research firms that do micro-targeting for conservative causes.

The site allows very detailed microtargeting because a person can search both legislation and legislator’s voting records by 50 different categories or by bill numbers or keywords. USA Today in the 2006 election discussed

the sophisticated microtargeting techniques that have enabled Republicans to find and motivate potential supporters across the country….
Over the past six years, Republicans have become expert at finding them and anyone else with potential GOP leanings, even in states where voters don’t register by party.
In a process called microtargeting they collect as much information as possible about voters from public records, Census data and marketing research firms. That’s used to create profiles including everything from voting history, job and marital status to where people live, what they drive, what they read and whether they fish.
The end product is a score indicating someone’s likelihood of voting, of supporting one party or the other and of being interested in certain issues. Advocates then use that information to determine whom to contact and what kind of pitch to use.

In a press release issued in Jan 2006 by the Washington Policy Center it claimed that WashingtonVotes.org had 1.1 million visits and nearly 5 million hits for the 2005-2006 Legislative session. That’s a lot of identifying data.

Washington State is not alone in this collection of data for microtargeting. USAVotes.org is the brainchild of a Michigan based right wing free market think tank called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. An identical looking website to WashingtonVotes.org is at MichiganVotes.org. It has an identical “Terms of Use” agreement except for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy owning the information.

Michigan was one of the first states that used microtargeting in elections. They still do. An analysis of the 2006 election by the Michigan Republican Party included the following information:

“Voter Vault and MicroTargeting
More than $250,000 was invested in technological upgrades to the RNC based Michigan Voter Vault file. Microtargeting, we dissected the statewide voter file containing records of more than 7 million voters using a hybrid of political survey and consumer marketing data. The result was a highly effective targeting tool that places those 7 million voters into more than 40 unique segments based upon their likelihood of voting Republican. Furthermore, those 40+ segments are dissected further into both propensity to vote and responsiveness to key issues. This allowed the MRP to highly target the messaging that was delivered to each voter via phones, mail, or in person at their doors.”

MSNBC.com in an article on Oct 18, 2006 entitled “Micro-targeting may be key to election” had the following statement:

“Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican party, explained how micro-targeting works:“We have two sets of IDs (voter identifications). We have the Republican National Committee ID that is done on the national level, and then each state has the ability to add what we call ‘affiliation codes.’ Each state will take different things they can get information on and add them to its micro-targeting universe.

WashingtonVotes.org and MichiganVotes.org are part of a larger strategy nationwide by conservative right wing groups to collect information on voters. USA Votes Inc, based out of Midland Michigan says on its website that it is “an organization devoted to assisting state-based organizations to launch and maintain state legislative information web sites.”

USA Votes states that they use

” the technology developed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for their highly successful web site,

MichiganVotes.org. USA Votes is the organization providing the Internet application and technical training to allow organizations to replicate this effort in their state. Our goal is to expand this concept so that all 50 states will have their own “Votes” web sites.”

“The network that we are using for sponsoring organizations is the State Policy Network, (www.spn.org), a national association of state-based, public policy research institutes. We will also be working through local Chambers of Commerce and other nonprofit organizations that support accountability in government.”
To date they have set up voting websites in 3 additional states besides Michigan and Washington. The other sites are: MinnesotaVotes.org, and Utah Votes.org, and KentuckyVotes.org

The irony is that the Minnesota State Legislature has its own website just like Washington State does. It’s at http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/legis.asp. Utah also has an official state legislative website at http://www.le.state.ut.us/. So does Kentucky at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/. The Michigan Legislative site is http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(gobsc455dm50ylfejmbvz255))/mileg.aspx?page=home

What the right wing is doing is repackaging information it takes off of the official state websites and then is trying to promote people using the USA Votes websites so they can mine information from citizens using their websites. They promote their websites as a free “nonpartisan” public service and can solicit money to support their collecting data which they can then sell or give to others to do things like microtarget voters for conservative campaigns or candidates or build up membership lists for right wing issue groups.

In Washington state they are also yielding power and exposure by selling information to newspapers. According to their Jan. press release Twenty-five newspapers around the state have subscribed to the WashingtonVotes.org Legislative Roll Call service for 2007 including The Seattle Times, Seattle PI, Spokesman-Review, Olympian, and Tacoma News Tribune. Each paper will publish the top 5 bills of the week and how legislators in their area voted on them. See examples – Tacoma News Tribune and tmcnet.com

In January a number of newspapers also responded to their press release and gave free promotion to WashingtonVotes’ website despite the fact that the Washington State Legislature’s website is the source for most of WasingtonVotes’ information.

All this helps to give WashingtonVotes more exposure in the legislative arena and get more people to use their website. In addition they are exerting information control on issues by deciding which 5 top bills they promote. They gain more control over state policy exposure and newspapers give up independence by letting a “free market”, anti regulation, anti tax right wing think tank decide what the 5 top bills of the week are.

Meanwhile the free to use publicly paid for nonpartisan official state Legislative website is not promoted by many of the news media. It is mostly state taxpayer funded compilation done by the Washington State Legislature and available at http://www.leg.wa.gov/ that is being used by the Washington Policy Center, USA Votes INC. and WashingtonVotes.org to promote and push the visibility and credibility of a conservative right wing free market agenda .

Frankly it is a rip off, deceitful and deceptive. The above is my interpretation of what to all intents and purposes appears to me to be a blatant invasion of privacy, a deceitful mining of data for ideological purposes and private gain. I think the Washington State Legislature and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office need to look into the operations of WashingtonVotes and determine if there is a deceptive and disguised effort to obtain information for private purposes and use of this data by nonprofit, for profit or partisan microtargeting consulting businesses or groups like the US Chamber of Commerce which is associated with the State Policy Network.

No matter how you interpret it, WashingtonVotes like MichiganVotes and the other websites, have been set up to help further the agenda of the “free market” anti regulation right wing think tanks. Using terms like free and nonpartisan are only a cover for the real purpose of these websites. I urge Washington citizens, organizations, the media, bloggers, political activists and others to not use WashingtonVotes to communicate with Legislators or to promote this site set up to help further the right wing agenda pushed by conservative and libertarian think tanks.