You've got ... a campaign disaster!

Steve Forbes sends an e-mail to supporters saying they've "maxed out" on contributions.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 11, 1999 12:00PM (EST)

A presidential contender just got a lesson about the hazards of e-mail campaigning. Late Tuesday evening, the campaign of publishing tycoon Steve Forbes sent an e-mail thanking supporters for "maxing out" their contributions for his White House run.

"Maxing out" refers to the $1,000 individual campaign contribution to candidates allowed under federal law. However, instead of going just to top contributors, the e-mail went to everyone who had registered on Forbes' Web site.

"Well, we wish that [all of the e-mail recipients "maxing out"] was true -- but in many cases it wasn't," wrote campaign webmaster Rick Segal in a follow-up e-mail Wednesday night. Puzzled recipients had alerted Segal to the problem. "When I opened up my in box this morning," the second e-mail read, "I was swamped with messages notifying me that all was not well in cyberspace." Though the original message was signed, "Cordially, Steve Forbes," Segal accepted full responsibility for the gaffe.

Thursday afternoon, Segal was still did not know how many people had received the erroneous e-mail. "Suffice it to say it received very wide distribution."

Though recipients' reaction to the glitch, according to Segal, was confused but friendly, he was eager to tell supporters that the message was not a ham-handed hint to send more funds. "We are very grateful for any support you give the campaign," Segal wrote.

Ironically, billionaire Forbes could use the money. According to the Federal Election Commission, though the $20 million Forbes has raised puts him behind only George W. Bush and Al Gore, he has already spent more than 90 percent of his war chest.

Among the Republican contenders, only lightweights Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes have spent a bigger chunk of their assets. Despite his spending, Forbes' poll numbers routinely hover in the single digits. Luckily for Forbes, the candidate himself is underwriting most of the uphill presidential quest, having donated $16 million to his campaign thus far.

On the Democratic side, another presidential hopeful is having more luck using e-mail. Bill Bradley slammed Al Gore's health-care commercial just hours after it orginally appeared on the vice president's Web site on Wednesday by circulating an e-mail accusing Gore of copying the former senator's ideas about health-care reform in the new spot.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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