Campaign Email Raises Eyebrows
On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 9, an email arrived in email inboxes all across Wilton (and elsewhere), that was sent by the Michael Powers campaign. Powers is a petition candidate unendorsed by any major party, running for first selectman.
Several Wilton residents contacted GMW to report receiving the email from Powers on Wednesday morning. None of them said they had registered or signed up to be on a mailing list from his campaign, nor had they given him permission to send them emails. In addition, some people took to social media to report receiving the emails–with many also noting that the emails were unsolicited and their email addresses used without permission.
The email detailed information about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests he has made of the town as well as a lawsuit he has filed against the town of Wilton and the Board of Selectmen asking for an injunction that would reverse several votes the BOS has taken in 2019.
It also mentioned an appeal filed in Superior Court by Wilton residents Joshua Cole and Melissa-Jean Rotini, appealing a decision made by the Wilton Board of Assessment Appeals regarding the real estate taxes and assessment on the Cole/Rotini Wilton residence. Cole is a selectman running for re-election to the Board of Selectmen and Rotini is a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission and a candidate for re-election. The email included Cole’s and Rotini’s appeal as one of “41 lawsuits by 52 plaintiffs [that] were filed against the Town of Wilton” in 2019.
Lynne Vanderslice, Wilton’s current first selectwoman who is running for re-election, sent a statement via her campaign, after she and other officials at town hall received phone calls from residents and non-residents asking about Powers’ email. She suggests Powers may have collected emails from lists of contacts he obtained from Town Hall.
“Residents, town employees and people outside of Wilton have contacted me about an email received today from Michael Powers questioning how he received their contact information. Michael Powers filed freedom of information requests for the contact lists of certain Town employees, including mine and my assistant’s.
In addition, she notes that property assessment lawsuits are “typical” in a revaluation year, which 2019 is.
“Forty-four property assessment lawsuits were filed against the town in 2019. This is typical in a revaluation year. There are approximately 6,000 properties in Wilton. Information on these lawsuits is publicly available through the CT Court Look Up website as follows: http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/PartySearch.aspx.”
Rotini and Cole emailed a joint statement regarding Powers’ assertions:
“The fact is, we filed a tax appeal as is the legal right of any property owner, whether a board volunteer or otherwise. As has been reported, many in town filed various stages of appeals. The personal attack, attempt to mischaracterize the appeal as more than seeking to correct what we believe to be an error, and the implication of an ethical violation are wholly without merit, with the latter representing a misunderstanding of the ethics rules.
“We both have excellent reputations in our respective legal communities. As those who know us are aware, any implication to the contrary is absurd. We volunteer many, many hours to our respective boards because we care about this Town. People should consider the source, then return focus to actual issues facing our Town.”
Vanderslice says that, when it comes to the list of email contacts, the town has limited choice about what to do.
“Under the freedom of information act, the town is required to provide public information to whomever requests the information. Beyond that we have no role in how the information is used.”
GOOD Morning Wilton emailed Powers late afternoon on Wednesday to ask for confirmation as to whether he compiled his email distribution list using email addresses gleaned through FOIA requests, as Vanderslice suggests. GMW also asked for a copy of that FOIA request he submitted to Town Hall–as well as for the total number of FOIA requests he has ever filed with town employees.
GMW sent a second email to him on Wednesday evening to provide another opportunity to comment, but has not yet received any response.
State Sen. Will Haskell and State Rep. Gail Lavielle both confirmed that they received FOIA requests for their contact lists from Powers as well.
Permission to Email
The email was sent using Constant Contact, an online marketing platform that provides users with tools to send email marketing campaigns. According to the Constant Contact website, the company has a policy regarding permission needed to send emails to contacts.
“At Constant Contact, we want our customers to only send emails to contacts that truly want to receive them, otherwise you’re sending spam. That’s why we require you to have permission from all of your contacts in order to email them.”
The Constant Contact “Email Permission Policy” also explains who customers can send emails to and who they can’t solicit:
“As long as each contact on the list has given you permission to email them, you can do so. There are two types of permission you can get from your contacts:
“Express Permission: when an individual has opted-in or specifically requested to get your emails. Some examples of this are: Anyone who goes through a double opt-in or confirmed opt-in process; someone who signs up to receive emails through a sign-up form; and people who sign up using a form with the specific purpose of being added to a mailing list.
“Implied Permission: Implied or implicit permission happens through a client or customer relationship. For example, through the exchange of business cards, a verbal request, a sale of product or service, or an inquiry.”
The company also spells out who customers cannot send emails to, and warns that, “Adding or importing names that go against our permission policy or anti-spam policy may result in the termination of your account.”
As part of the requests for comment sent to Powers, GOOD Morning Wilton asked whether he sought permission from the people on his email list to whom he sent the email Wednesday morning, and whether he knew of the Constant Contact policies regarding recipient permission.
Powers has not responded to the requests for comment as of publication time.
Editor’s note: The quote sent to GMW from Vanderslice regarding the town’s role in how information it provides under FOIA law is used, originally omitted the word ‘no’. Vanderslice notified GMW this morning that the quote should read ‘no role’ and we’ve updated the text accordingly.