Campaign mail buries Elgin-area homes
By Katie Anderson email@example.com October 26, 2010 6:52PM
Letter carriers sort political mail at the Elgin Post Office on Thursday. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 23, 2010 7:56AM
If it seems as if your mailbox has been filled with a record amount of political campaign mail, it is not your imagination. Even the post office is overwhelmed at the flood of postcards, fliers, brochures and other campaign mail.
“This year, I feel like it’s been one of the heaviest. It’s definitely heavier than normal,” Elgin Postmaster Sue Meathe said.
The volume of “flats” — mail larger than a letter, such as magazines, newspapers and political propaganda — delivered by the Elgin Post Office is up 78 percent this campaign season compared to the same time last year, according to Meathe.
“That’s unheard of!” she said.
On Monday, the volume of mail was so high that the computer program the post office uses to calculate how long it will take to deliver mail estimated it would take two hours of overtime on each route to get the job done. In reality, though, it took less time, Meathe said.
Typically, local campaigners send out a barrage of the paper stuff a week or two before the election, but this year, the election mailings began arriving in mid-September.
According to local postal officials and professional printers, the flood can be traced back to the economy and the large number of close state and federal races.
“We’re in several different (legislative) districts, so we’re definitely seeing it from all ends,” Meathe said.
There are a number of close races this year for state and federal positions, including races that the major political parties really care about, Meathe said. People living in the 60120 ZIP code, which covers Elgin east of the Fox River and extends to Route 59, are being hit especially hard, she said.
Registered voters there have a say in several strongly contested races, including those for governor, Congress, U.S. Senate, state Senate, and Illinois attorney general and secretary of state.
In addition, county races on the ballot include county clerk, treasurer, sheriff and various judgeships.
“Probably the other reason is the smaller elections don’t have the money to be on TV. Without going door to door, the only way to communicate is mail,” Meathe said. “We are a pretty cheap and inexpensive way to get the message through.”
Scott Hansen, who owns and operates The Responsive Mailroom in Elgin, agreed. His company prints, labels and sorts thousands of political materials this time of year.
A benefit of direct mail, he said, is that it can be targeted at specific households. Locals running for office can purchase lists from The Responsive Mailroom and others like it in order to have their respective materials sent, for example, only to registered voters, to voters who make more than $100,000 a year, or to voters who are over 40.
“This way, they can get the most bang for their buck,” Hansen said.
In addition to increased volume, Elgin postal customers have experienced a seemingly record year for angry-looking campaign mail. Of the more than 30 fliers brought in by Courier-News newsroom staffers from their home mailboxes, the language used on the majority of the papers featured sinister-looking fonts, ominous themes and pictures of distraught children and elderly people.
Republican Ruth Munson of Elgin, who is running to regain the 43rd District state representative seat from incumbent Democrat Keith Farnham of Elgin, points to state and national party leaders as the cause of most negative mailings.
“Some mailings are paid for by the parties, some are paid for by Citizens for Ruth Munson. The mailings sent out by Citizens for Ruth Munson, I have input on — the talking points and designs. The mailings paid for by the party, I have no input on,” she said. It’s a setup Munson said she doesn’t like.
Munson takes credit for the letters sent out on her behalf and postcards detailing how to register to vote or vote early. But she said she has had no control over materials sent by the Illinois Republican Party that include personal attacks on Farnham.
Munson criticized the disconnect between her local efforts and those of her party, which she said is responsible for the sea of glossy political propaganda sent out on her behalf.
“It’s my preference to have control of everything that goes out with my name on it,” Munson said. “I think if we could cap spending by party leaders in each district, we would be better off ... . I have something like 200-plus local contributors to my campaign ... in the end, you minimize how significant their contribution is if you don’t cap party leaders.”
Republican Steven Rauschenberger of Elgin, who is running to regain the 22nd District State Senate seat from Democratic incumbent Michael Noland of Elgin, agreed with Munson’s position.
“Prior to this election, all the way through the 2002 election I self-financed, and we produced all of our mailing and controlled all of our own messaging,” he said. This election, however, Rauschenberger said he is less in control of his own campaign.
“I find it personally very frustrating,” he said. “The idea that the Illinois Republican Party is controlling the messaging and the direction of the race out here I think it is unfortunate.”
Rauschenberger said he has seen a general erosion of the “freedom and independence of individual candidates” and “increasing power in two parties and legislative leaders” when it comes to running district-level campaigns.
Noland disagreed with Rauschenberger.
“Anything that goes out on my behalf is reviewed and approved by me,” Noland said. “We as candidates have to remain overall responsible for anything that goes out on our behalf, and I certainly accept that responsibility,” he said.
“No matter how this election turns out, I have to walk around in this community and associate with everyone who receives these mailers,” he continued.
According to both Noland and Farnham, months before election season, they sit down with party officials and plan the details of their campaigns, including materials.
“We talk out what the issues are going to be,” Noland said. Both Farnham and Noland said that some of their materials are designed and published by party leaders and some are done locally, but all of their respective mailers are approved by the candidates themselves.
Spokesman for the Democratic Party of Illinois Steve Brown confirmed this process. A representative from the Illinois Republican Party could not be reached for comment.
Milder ingredients from judge candidate?
In a sharp contrast to the cardboard postcards fast filling up mailboxes before Tuesday’s election, Republican judge candidate David R. Akemann of Elgin has sent out light-blue cookbooks.
“We did one in the primary and had a very, very positive reaction to it,” said Akemann, who is vying in the 16th Judicial Circuit Court for resident judge against Democratic candidate John G. Dalton, also of Elgin.
“We were looking for something with more value — something people would look at for longer than the 10 seconds from the mailbox to the recycling basket — something positive and useful,” he said.
The thin, paperback-book-size cookbook is gaily decorated with spoons, forks and gavels. It includes little about Akemann’s political positions but instead is filled with his family’s favorite recipes.
“It is a little more human connection, rather than just some guy in a picture,” Akemann said. “I wanted to residents to make a connection with me and my family, who we are. That we’re kind of the same.”
Akemann gave credit for the idea to his campaign manager, who he said pitched it as an alternative to postcard or flier mailings.
“Some days at our house, I get up to four of five card pieces — some of them negative — and, heck, I’ve stopped reading them,” Akemann said.