WASHINGTON – “B Strong,” the banner says. Stripped atop the homepage of the Democratic National Committee, the message, using the red “B” of the Boston Red Sox logo, encourages people to thank the emergency personnel who responded in last week’s Boston Marathon bombings.
But the simple note of gratitude to Boston police, firefighters and EMTs has drawn criticism, denounced by Republicans as a “political ploy” soon after it debuted on Monday.
In addition to writing their full names and an optional message, users must also provide their email addresses and zip codes – valuable currency for any political operation that is in the business of maintaining databases for fundraising and volunteer work. By submitting their information, users agree to grant the DNC permission to use the information for political and advertising purposes.
Those who add their names to the list receive an email from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, encouraging them to share the note among their family and friends via Facebook and Twitter.
“We want to make sure that these true American heroes receive all the thanks they deserve,” Schultz writes. “Can you help spread the word?”
A separate email said every note will be delivered to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who will pass along the sentiments.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the data mining “disgraceful” and in “very poor taste” in a Tweet posted Monday. He accuses Democrats of “capitalizing on terrorism and Boston’s first responders to boost their fundraising lists.”
DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse flipped the criticism back to Republicans, saying on Twitter, “What’s disgraceful is that @GOP would politicize expressions of support for first responders. You should be thanking them too.”
In response a Globe email and phone call asking how the 30,000 emails collected will be used, Woodhouse said the DNC would not be using any of the email data for fundraising. “We never planned to,” he wrote on Twitter, “And in fact we aren’t even keeping the data.” He said the whole effort was to deliver messages of support to first responders.
“Our supporters were looking for an outlet to express their gratitude and support for first responders in the wake of the tragedy in Boston, and collecting messages of thanks to deliver to them we concluded was the best outlet we could give them,” Woodhouse said.
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday that “no matter how the Democratic National Committee tries to spin it, the fact is that they are using the Boston Marathon bombing to collect data that will be used for voter contact and fundraising.
“This kind of disgracefully insensitive tactic should offend people regardless of political affiliation,” Prior said. “The Massachusetts Congressional and Senatorial delegation must immediately and forcefully demand that Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz and the DNC stop this unconscionable behavior.”
U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch said in an interview Tuesday that the DNC should have allowed people to thank first responders without capturing their emails. “That might have saved them from the accusation that they were using it politically,” said Lynch, who is running in a Democratic primary election against U.S. Representative Edward Markey to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s senate seat.
“Their heart was in the right place, but maybe they could have handled it a little better,” he said. Lynch said it is “reassuring” to hear Woodhouse say the emails would not be used for fundraising. “That is a wise move.”
Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC, also condemned the gathering of emails on FOX News Tuesday, adding the DNC should donate some of the money it has raised for political campaigns to help victims of the bombings.