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Customer Support Ruling

 

 

Personal Information in "Advocacy" Mailings Entered at Standard Mail Rates
May 18, 2005

PS-324 (243.2.2)

This Customer Support Ruling discusses whether “personal information” in an “advocacy” mailpiece causes the piece to be ineligible for entry as Standard Mail. As the term is used in this CSR, “advocacy” is any effort that seeks support for or opposition to, or expresses a viewpoint recommending any other action concerning political parties or candidates, or any question or proposition on a general, primary, or special election ballot in any federal, state, or local election; the introduction or passage of legislation; or the implementation or rescission of specific policies or actions by government officials. An “advocacy organization” is an organization that engages in advocacy; an “advocacy mailing” is matter whose contents include advocacy or that seeks support for advocacy organizations, through requests for members or financial, service, or other contributions.

Mailpieces containing personal information must be entered at First-Class Mail rates unless eligible for Standard Mail or Package Services rates under the provisions of DMM 243.2* or 453.2*. DMM 243.2.2* provides that personal information may not be included in a Standard Mail mailpiece unless three conditions are met:  the mailpiece contains explicit advertising for a product or service for sale or lease or an explicit solicitation for a donation; all of the personal information is directly related to the advertising or solicitation; and the exclusive reason for inclusion of all of the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mailpiece.

The remainder of this CSR elaborates on these tests, as well as the threshold question of what information in a mailpiece should be considered “personal information.” We discuss each issue in turn. The examples discussed throughout this CSR are illustrative but are not a complete list.

1.       Does the mailpiece contain personal information?

Personal information consists of information specific to the addressee, other than the date of the letter; the name and address of the sender; and the name, address, and alphanumeric information that constitutes the sender’s internal routing numbers (sometimes labeled “membership,” “account,” “file,” “case,” or “control”).

The following are examples of information that is considered “personal information”: 

      (a)  The region, metropolitan area, or neighborhood where the addressee lives.

      (b)  The addressee’s polling place, precinct, electoral district, or elected political representatives; and listings of political candidates or ballot propositions or initiatives recommended by the sender for the precinct or other electoral district of the addressee.

(c)     The number of members or supporters of the mailer in the area where the addressee lives.

(d)     The age, ethnicity, gender, party, or other demographic characteristics of the addressee.

(e)     The birth date, occupational title, and similar information about the addressee.

(f)       The duration (e.g., “member since 1979”) or expiration date of the addressee’s membership.

(g)     The amount of previous donations or contributions by the addressee.

The following are examples of information that is not considered to be personal for mail classification purposes:

      (a)  Markings that qualify as written additions under DMM 243.2.6 or enclosures and attachments under DMM 243.2.5 are not considered personal information.

      (b)  The name and mailing address of the addressee are not considered to be personal information. This is true whether that information, or a discrete element of the name and address, is used in the body of a letter, the heading, envelope, or any component of the mailpiece.

      (c)  Markings such as “Personal – Do Not Throw Away” or “Important – Open Immediately” appearing on the envelopes of a mailing are not themselves personal information.

2. Does the mailpiece solicit a donation?

In the context of advocacy mailings, a “solicitation for a donation” can seek a broader range of responses than just a donation of funds. Requests for the following kinds of action by the addressee will also be regarded as a solicitation for a donation:

      (a)  A request or recommendation that the addressee support or oppose, or vote for or against, a specified candidate, proposition, party or other question or item on a general, primary, or special election ballot in a federal, state, or local election, or which is in circulation to appear on such a ballot.

      (b)  A request that the addressee complete and mail an opinion survey, feedback or evaluation form, petition, open letter, or note or card related to a federal, state, or local election, pending or proposed legislation, or the implementation or rescission of other specific government policies or actions (e.g., “Please return this postcard to your Member of Congress”).

      (c)  A request that the addressee write correspondence or make a telephone call related to a political candidate, pending or proposed legislation, or the implementation or rescission of other specific government policies or actions (e.g., “Please call your neighbors and urge them to write to the City Council to support Proposition X”).

      (d) A request that the addressee communicate with an elected or other government official to seek the passage of legislation or other governmental action (e.g., “Please write to the Chief of Police to request increased patrols in our neighborhood”).

      (e)  A request that the addressee perform services in kind for a political party or campaign, or for any advocacy organization.

      (f)   A request that the addressee join or renew an existing membership in an advocacy organization.

A solicitation need not contain the exact phrases such as “please vote for X,” “please contribute,” “please volunteer,” or “please read”; however, there needs to be content that indicates the action requested. This content may be located in any component of the mailpiece.

3. Is the personal information directly related to the solicitation?

The personal information will be considered to be related directly to the advertising or solicitation if the content of the mailpiece ties the personal information to the solicitation or advertisement. For example:

      (a)  A reference to the neighborhood, county, metropolitan area, or region of the addressee shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation for a donation raised from or benefiting the same neighborhood, county, metropolitan area, or region.

      (b)  Information about the addressee’s polling place, precinct, or electoral district shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation requesting that the addressee vote at that location concerning a specific cause, candidate, ballot referendum, ballot proposition, or initiative. Information about the addressee’s elected political representatives or political candidates, or ballot propositions or initiatives, shall be considered to be directly related to a request to the addressee to support or oppose those individuals, propositions, or initiatives, or to provide support for a political cause of the mailer.

When a mailpiece contains more than one solicitation, the personal information need relate to only one of the solicitations.

4. Is supporting the solicitation the exclusive reason for including the personal information?

The final step is to consider whether there is any purpose for including the personal information other than to support the solicitation. If nothing in the mailpiece indicates the personal information is included for any purpose other than to solicit the addressee to support an advocacy purpose of the mailer, all of the personal information in the mailpiece shall be regarded as having been provided solely for the purpose of enhancing the solicitation.

*See also DMM 343.2, 443.2, 363.3, 373.2, 383.2, 463.3, 473.2, and 483.2.

(Signed)
Sherry Suggs
Manager
Mailing Standards
United States Postal Service
Washington DC 20260-3436