Hey, Here’s Who Your Neighbors Gave Money To. Sincerely, Harvard
So you get a letter that says “IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS” on the outside. Of course most pieces of mail marked “important” are the opposite, but you open it up anyway. Inside is your name and the first initials and last names of five of your neighbors, along with each person’s political contributions for the previous year and to which party that contribution was made. So, for instance: “J. Smith, $100, DEM.”
Kind of weird, right?
Susan Kelley of Orlando, Fla., received such a letter recently and assumed it was a scam. She was surprised to see that the letter said it was from researchers at Harvard University, and had a hard time believing that because the letter seemed so unofficial. Along with listing the contributions of a handful of her neighbors, the letter included the URL for the Federal Election Commission, informing her that she could look up how much her “neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers” had contributed.
She found it disconcerting. “While I am well aware that the information is public, as is a great deal of other information about each of us, I was offended that Harvard University would feel it was in the interests of research to urge people to view each other’s political contributions,” she writes in an e-mail. “I am no more interested in the contributions of my neighbors to their favorite politicians than I am in how they vote.”
She wonders: “Toward what end, Harvard researchers?”