Independent Expenditure Mail Vs. Campaign Mail.

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Independent expenditure mail on a wooden table

Independent Expenditure Mail & Candidate Mail - Learn the Difference

While they share a number of similarities, independent expenditure mail and candidate campaign mail also have quite a few differences. Both independent expenditure mail and candidate campaign mail may have the same primary goal (i.e., getting a candidate elected), but the means that they use to get there can vary. Due to elections law, in most cases independent expenditures are not allowed to coordinate with the candidate campaign directly. This means an independent expenditure mail program has to operate largely on its own, which can be both a strength and a weakness. Below is a look at the main differences between independent expenditure mail and candidate campaign mail.


IE Mail Must Account for Outside Factors

When you’re running a candidate campaign, you really have to focus on running your own best race and creating a path to victory in the (very likely) scenario that no outside groups come to your aid. But as an independent expenditure, you really are developing your strategy based on outside factors. For instance, let’s say you hear from your sources on the ground that they’re getting a ton of mail from the candidate during the early voting period. You may decide that your independent expenditure mail is better positioned to drop around Election Day. Depending on state and local elections laws, your independent expenditure may also be able to coordinate with other independent expenditures. Therefore, if another outside group is already doing mail in support of the same candidate around healthcare, you may decide that that issue is already covered and instead do your mail around infrastructure or job growth.


IEs May Have More Difficulty Accessing Assets

As we’ve written in a past blog, there are quite a few restrictions on the types of assets that an independent expenditure can use. This can mean than an independent expenditure has to get creative with its approach to mail since they may not be able to get the photo that they want. Let’s say you’re doing independent expenditure mail around healthcare, and the candidate you’re supporting is a doctor. In a perfect world, you’d have a great picture of the candidate in scrubs, front and center on the piece, with the headline, “How do we fix healthcare? Ask a doctor.” But let’s say that for whatever reason the candidate’s campaign hasn’t made photos of the candidate in scrubs publicly available. This is when independent expenditures have to get creative. For example, you could animate the candidate using an illustrator to make the piece look like it’s a coloring book, or you could draw out the words in the headline using the shape of a stethoscope.


IE Mail Often Speaks to a Narrower Audience

To be successful, a candidate campaign has to be laser focused on their vote goal and develop a strategy to get every vote to reach their goal. While every good independent expenditure should also know their candidate’s vote goal, in many cases they realize that their efforts alone won’t be enough to get the candidate across the finish line. Instead, they have to find a niche that can help the candidate get to the vote goal, but may not, on its own, be enough. For instance, say you are running an IE and polling reveals that there is group of young mothers, age 30-40, who can be persuaded to support your candidate. The candidate’s vote goal in this theoretical race is 15K and there’s only 4K mothers in the district this age with a sufficient vote propensity. Would persuading these 4K voters help the candidate out? Absolutely. Can the candidate campaign afford to do six pieces of mail to this group that are specifically around early childhood education and Pre-K? In many instances, no.


IE Mail May Be Able to Develop a Stronger Contrast

Anything that goes out from a candidate’s campaign has the candidate’s name on it. Voters and members of the community know that the candidate is the ultimate approver of the mail that comes from their campaign. So at the end of the day it’s the candidate’s reputation that’s on the line in a candidate campaign’s mail. While many candidates are comfortable developing a strong contrastive message in their mail, the fact that the mail is linked to the candidate’s reputation can prevent campaigns from using the most abject items in their oppo file. But those same reservations don’t exist in independent expenditure mail. These groups may be created for the sole purpose of supporting a few specific candidates and dissolve after Election Day. Depending on the type of independent expenditure, they may not even have to disclose their donors. Thus, they don’t have the long-term reputational issue that a candidate campaigns will have. This isn’t to say that all independent expenditure mail is negative, but as long as they are adhering to the adage of “do no harm,” I.E. mail does often have more leeway to develop a stronger, more contrastive message.


Have other questions about independent expenditure mail or candidate campaign mail? Ask The Campaign Workshop!