Influence Industry

Unusual bunch of foes to postal rate increase unites as Affordable Mail Alliance

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010

By the time the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to raise rates earlier this month, an unusual alliance of customers was in place to oppose it.

The Affordable Mail Alliance includes more than 700 publishers, direct-mail companies, nonprofit groups and other mailers that fear the economic impact of proposed increases.

The alliance has hired a prominent Democratic-leaning media firm, SKDKnickerbocker, to handle its communications strategy. SKD partner Anita Dunn recently returned to the firm after serving as President Obama's communications director; another partner, Bill Knapp, produced television ads for the Obama campaign.

The group has also signed up the powerhouse law firm of Venable LLP to handle legal challenges to the Postal Service's plans.

During past rate battles, it was usually up to the major trade groups and publishers to argue against increases. But the organizers behind the new group said they decided it was time to try a new approach by banding together under a well-funded, but short-term, alliance.

"We decided we had to get together and speak with one voice to say this is the wrong time for a rate increase," said Jerry Cerasale of the Direct Marketing Association, a prime driver of the alliance. "We decided we're going to have to fight this."

The group's membership roster includes the usual heavyweights of direct mail, from the American Forest & Paper Association to the Major Mailers Association to the Conde Naste magazine empire. But it also includes the Prairie Pioneer of Pollock, S.D., the Big Buck Saver in Wisconsin and scores of other small community publications.

Backers declined to provide details about the group's finances or funding.

The Postal Service announced proposed rate hikes July 6 that would include a 2-cent increase for first-class stamps, to 46 cents, and an 8 percent jump for magazine publishers. These and other increases would generate $2.3 billion for the Postal Service over the first nine months of next year, narrowing a projected $7 billion budget gap.

The alliance argues that the proposal erroneously relies on an emergency loophole to get around a ban on raising rates beyond the rate of inflation. Lawyers for the group filed an objection this week with the Postal Regulatory Commission, saying the Postal Service should forgo rate increases and work on cutting costs like its private-market rivals FedEx and UPS.

The commission has until early October to make a ruling.

Tougher enforcement?

Reform groups have long complained that federal lobbying rules are rarely enforced with much vigor, leaving unscrupulous lobbyists free to ignore reporting requirements or otherwise shade the truth about their activities.

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