The White House for the first time Sunday seemed to acknowledge that people across the country received unsolicited e-mails from the administration last week about health care reform, suggesting the problem is with third-party groups that placed the recipients' names on the distribution list.
In a written statement released exclusively to FOX News, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the White House hopes those who received the e-mails without signing up for them were not "inconvenienced" by the messages.
"The White House e-mail list is made up of e-mail addresses obtained solely through the White House Web site. The White House doesn't purchase, upload or merge from any other list, again, all e-mails come from the White House Web site as we have no interest in e-mailing anyone who does not want to receive an e-mail," the statement said. "If an individual received the e-mail because someone else or a group signed them up or forwarded the e-mail, we hope they were not too inconvenienced."
The White House previously would not answer questions on how the e-mails landed unsolicited in so many inboxes. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday said he couldn't give an answer until he saw who received the e-mails because he doesn't have "omnipotent clarity."
Yet the White House ignored repeated offers from FOX News to share with the administration such e-mail addresses, to help determine how the recipients ended up on the White House distribution list.
Shapiro said Sunday that those recipients can unsubscribe if they want, "by clicking the link at the bottom of the e-mail or (telling) whomever forwarded it to them not to forward such information anymore." He said the White House is trying to correct the problem.
"We are implementing measures to make subscribing to e-mails clearer, including preventing advocacy organizations from signing people up to our lists without their permission when they deliver petition signatures and other messages on individuals' behalf," he said.
One possible reason for the confusion is that advocacy groups, when dealing with online petitions, are sending in their membership lists whenever they make contact with the White House - the e-mail addresses affiliated with those members could then become embedded in the White House distribution list. The White House indicated its Web site managers are going to seek out and block online petitions so that people can only sign up for information individually.
FOX News viewers have said in some cases they received a copy of the president's speech earlier this year in Cairo; in other instances they received health care updates.
Most recently, FOX News had received hundreds of e-mails from people who said they got an e-mail last week from senior adviser David Axelrod, even though they had never requested any communication from the White House.
In the mass message, Axelrod defended President Obama's health care proposals and asked supporters to help rebut criticism circulating on the Internet.
Axelrod wrote that opponents are relying on tactics including "viral e-mails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies."
"So let's start a chain of e-mail of our own," he wrote, inviting supporters to forward his message countering claims that Obama's plans would lead to rationing, encourage euthanasia or deplete veterans' health care.
But many people who thought they were not on any distribution list received the message directly from the White House, leading to accusations that the Obama administration was effectively spamming them.
"It's not a function of the White House to get somebody's e-mail address," said Utah resident Lou Porta.
Porta, a Republican, said he received Axelrod's e-mail even though he's never accessed the White House Web site or asked for any communication from it on any topic.
The e-mail with Axelrod's name on it, sent Thursday, came under a message from the White House. If it had come from Axelrod's individual White House e-mail it would have been archived indefinitely under the Presidential Records Act. But messages from the more generic account may not fall under the same restrictions.
The Axelrod e-mail is just the latest move by the White House to raise privacy questions.
The White House earlier drew criticism for asking the public to send in "fishy" information on health care reform the public receive via e-mail or find on the Internet.
Critics worried how the White House would use that information and accused the administration of playing "big brother."
Gibbs rejected the accusations and said the White House was not compiling a list of names.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.