Targeted Communications Corporation resides in a Dutch modern townhouse in Falls Church, next door to an abandoned motel. For the last 10 months the company has been trying to make Walter Mondale president -- by mail. About 1.5 million "pieces" -- letters -- have been sent out in Mondale's name. According to the executive director of Committee for the Future of America -- the humble name of Mondale's PAC -- the mail campaign will have brought in $300,000 by the end of September.
Targeted Communications is owned by Robert Smith, a 34- year-old unconventional direct mailer who wears scrimshaw cufflinks and disdains the use of the usual "qualified donor" lists to raise money, lists that come from the Democratic party, PACs, women's groups, environmentalists and similar organizations. Instead, Smith depends upon voter registration lists and census data.
"We break the voting lists down precinct by precinct," he says, "to tell where the people are who are most susceptible to our message. We determine who's persuadable by finding out how they voted in the past. We find an election that closely mirrors this one. Then we take the list of persuadables" -- persuadables are people -- "and lay over the census data -- income, education, age, race. That tells us who they are."
The persuadables then receive letters signed by Mondale.
"Here we conceptualize the appeal," says Smith, "write the package and oversee the printing . . . In the letter, we make it clear that Mondale shares the people's views of what America is and where it ought to be going. It says we have to stop political gains of the right wing and develop a new agenda for the future. Then it says, 'I hope you will join me in these two steps.'"
The first step is to give money. "The PACs working for liberal Democrats do well with senior citizens or Jews or young professionals, but other subconstituencies can be more complicated. Like faded blue collars." Faded blue collars are upper-income working people. "They're probably anti-Reagan because of their income position, but because of that income position, they're not likely donors."
So they are asked to join something called the New Agenda Network, and receive copies of Mondale's speeches. "It's an updated version of the letters of correspondence used during the Revolutionary War to organize and develop the ideas that ended up in the Constitution . . . We tested it by asking firsttonly for money, and then asking for money and for membership in the New Agenda Network. We got more responses with the second mailing and more paid responses, too."
Smith says his group found between 3 and 4 million people willing to give who otherwise might have languished among the unpersuadables. "They're likely to want to get involved, and later to contribute."
When Mondale formally declares his candidacy, the people working for the Committee for the Future of America will molt, emerging as Mondale's campaign organization. The new organization will then have to lease the names on Smith's list from the Committee for the Future of America, a common political shell-and-pea bit that is all perfectly legal.