Senate Shift May Shift Focus on Catalog Issues

The direct marketing industry may now have to explain to the Senate exactly how it uses data

The May defection of Vermont senator James Jeffords from the Republican Party dramatically transformed the Senate. With Jeffords now an independent, the Democrats gained control. And with Democrats now chairing the Senate committees, legislators may approach key issues differently.

Postal reform, for one, could get pushed to the bottom of the agenda. Sen. Dan Akaka (D-HI), who has become chairman of the Senate Government Affairs International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee — which acts on postal affairs — has so far shown little interest in reform.

“Akaka has expressed a good bit of interest in postal affairs,” says government affairs consultant Richard Barton, president of Arlington, VA-based Barton Consulting, “but it’s largely parochial on how it affects Hawaii.” Akaka’s predecessor as chair, Thad Cochran (R-MS), had been on record as eager for postal reform.

As for privacy issues, “common wisdom from a direct marketing viewpoint is that the shift to a Democratic-controlled Senate will probably be harmful” to the catalog industry, Barton says. As a rule, Democrats tend to be more protective of consumers than Republicans, who are generally more protective of businesses.

Catalogers should not take the shift in the balance of power lightly, Barton says. Jeffords’s defection and the resulting Senate shift will likely force the direct marketing industry to better explain to Congress and the public how direct marketers use information and why such usage is not particularly threatening. “We’ve been thrown into the whole rubric of privacy and need to show how relatively benign it is,” Barton says.

For instance, Democrats could push for opt-in legislation for both Web and print advertising. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), “has already expressed a great deal [of interest] in privacy legislation from the House side” Barton says, “and the Senate might now have more sympathy to an opt-in.”

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