CHAMPAIGN — A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said that a mass email sent to thousands of residents of the 13th Congressional District last week had been approved by the House franking commission and was not of a political nature.
But a University of Illinois staff member said that he objected to receiving the personal message on his UI account.
"I get enough unsolicited mails as it is. I don't want to get additional unsolicited emails," said Jonathan Manton, a computer system administrator at the UI's department of mathematics. "It's easier for automatic spam filters to edit out penis enlargement and Viagra, but when it is coming from one of our elected representatives I almost feel hopeless.
"It disturbs me that he has the ability to find out my email address and know that I'm in his district, and I think he's taking advantage of that."
Davis spokesman Andrew Flach said "we get data from a lot of sources" and that the message was not part of a mass email to all UI employees.
Manton also said he was worried that the email was "setting a precedent."
"To get one is one thing, but I don't want every person running for office and every person who is an elected official in my area sending me email," he said.
Flach said the congressman's office last week received "two or three" complaints about the email, and that those recipient's addresses were removed from Davis' email list.
The email from Davis, sent to about 50,000 residents of the district that stretches from Champaign-Urbana to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, invited recipients to subscribe to his office newsletter, and to follow him on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
"My e-newsletter will simply be another way to communicate with you, containing Washington D.C. and district updates, my thoughts on some of the current issues in Congress and local media stories of interest," said the email from Davis.
The message also included a line allowing recipients to click "unsubscribe" and not be included in any future emails from the freshman congressman.
"The email sent on Friday was simply an invitation for residents of the 13th District to sign up to receive Congressman Davis' official weekly e-newsletter. We also used the email as a means to pass along the contact information for our new offices and included links to the congressman's social media sites," said Flach.
The email was not a political message, he noted.
"This was an official correspondence from our office, having received approval from the House franking commission, and did include a link to unsubscribe from receiving any future emails from our office," Flach said.
But Manton said that "we have trained our users to not click on links in emails if you don't know where the email has come from, or you don't recognize it. We've trained them that unless it is a university email or it is from a friend of yours, you should just delete it and assume that it is spam."
He said he tells department users that "if an email has links, assume that it is someone trying to get your password or trying to get malware on your computer or something, and just delete it.
"They may think this isn't a big deal because people can just click on 'Unsubscribe.' But marketers have used that in the past with the 'Unsubscribe' button. What it does is confirm that you're a real email address."
All of the content of the email and external links were approved by the bipartisan House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, also known as the franking commission.
"As a result of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for FY 1991, members are required to submit all mass mailings (unsolicited mailings of 500 or more pieces of the same matter) for an advisory opinion prior to mailing," says a note on the commission's website.