The business behind political mail

Has your mailbox been overflowing in recent weeks with political mailers touting candidates for tomorrow’s election? Mine has. At some point, I started to wonder: Who makes these things? How does the business work? And what do they really do? I recently spoke to two slate mail producers — one Democrat, one Republican — to get some answers.

The mailers I examined are simple advertising vehicles: Candidates pay for their images and messages to be sent to targeted voters. But that’s not always obvious at first glance. One of the most interesting things I learned about the industry is that the companies that produce slate mailers often set up non-profit arms, framing their newsletters under the auspices of those entities. That’s why you’ll see some mailers with generic-sounding organization names across the top, like the “Coalition for California.”

Doing this allows the slate mail companies to take advantage of non-profit postage rates, which are significantly cheaper than regular postage. But it also requires them to include some educational material on their mailers, which is why you’ll see ones with non-political messages inside.

To hear how it all works, listen in:

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And here’s what the mailers look like:

This mailer produced by Jill Barad has a message about tax refunds.
This mailer produced by Jill Barad has a message about tax refunds.
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This slate mailer produced by Jim Lacy targets female voters in Los Angeles.