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Of all the problems that I had in these first years as a direct mail fundraiser, number one was the lack of identified conservatives on mailing lists.  Today I have, in my desk, a book-size file of several hundred conservative mailing lists.  Back then we had only a handful of conservative mailing lists.  And lists are the lifeblood of direct marketing.

After several years of living on a near-starvation diet of names to mail to, I saw a (pardon the pun) golden opportunity in the Goldwater campaign.  At that time, federal political campaigns had to register, on a quarterly basis, the names and addresses of all persons who contributed $50 or more to the candidate.  The list was kept on file with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and you could look at the list in the clerk’s office.

I decided to do more than look at the names and addresses.  I copied them laboriously by longhand, one contributor after another.  This soon turned out to be more time consuming than I could handle, so I hired a half dozen or so women to do this for me.  The clerk and his staff eyed us suspiciously, because nothing like this had ever happened before.  But there didn’t seem to be any law saying we couldn’t copy the names and addresses.  Finally the clerk decided he had better cover his rear flank and told me we couldn’t copy names anymore – he just wasn’t comfortable with it.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have kept the operation going and said, “Talk to my attorney.”  But we packed up our yellow pads and complied with his order.

Luckily, we got most of the Goldwater donor names before the clerk’s nervousness shut us off.  The total list was something like 15,000 names, and we had 12,500 of them.  Since they had been reported on a quarterly basis, we had a nationwide list of the early responders – the most ardent Goldwater supporters in the nation.  And that list was my treasure trove, as good as the gold bricks deposited at Fort Knox, as I started The Viguerie Company and began raising money for conservative clients.

People sometimes say, “It was the computer that allowed Viguerie to pioneer political direct mail.”  That’s not really true.  I could have done what I did without computers, using any of the old technology, such as Addressograph or Scriptomatic.  Lists are the lifeblood of direct mail, and I now was the sole possessor of the best list in the nation for raising money for conservative causes.  I also knew what to do with that list.

Growing, step by step, under the radar

Conservatives were not a major concern to the establishment in the years immediately following 1964.  We were a convenient punching bag, good to beat up on when they needed to show that a particular issue or position was too “radical” to be taken seriously.  The Republicans had to throw us a few crumbs, but they didn’t consider us to be a serious threat, and for good reason.  We had been trounced, and they assumed that was the end of that.  No more forthright conservatives running for national office.

Under the establishment’s radar, though, we kept busy and kept growing.  Even if the pace of growth was agonizingly slow, we hoped and trusted that at some point we’d reach a critical mass where we could make a big difference in the national political agenda.  

I kept adding to my list of conservative donor names.  My contract with any client would give both the client and me the use of donors’ names, which was critical in expanding the base of the conservative movement.  It had the effect politically that free trade has economically – it made for easy market access across borders (in this instance, organizational borders) since I was, in effect, the NAFTA framework governing conservative lists.  If I thought the donors to group A would also be likely to contribute to group B, I’d test my hunch with a mailing.  Group B obviously would benefit from the additional donors, but this helped group A as well, since it would be just a matter of time before we used the B list for a mailing to benefit A, not to mention the lists of new organizations C, D, and E.

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