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States target political robo-callsThursday, May 22, 2008
|States target political
Shaun Dakin phoned a list of
A volunteer for state and national campaigns since 1988, Dakin learned that some households were being targeted 10 to 15 times a day by pre-recorded political calls, or robo-calls, on top of the personal calls made by campaign volunteers.
Concerned, Dakin launched in October Citizens for Civil Discourse, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization devoted to helping voters eliminate “phone spam” by creating a political do-not-call list similar to the National Do Not Call Registry, which doesn’t include political calls.
Because robo-calls are cheap and easier to make than personal campaign calls, they account for the majority of political calls — and most of the complaints. Dakin created the registry, which is not backed by law as the federal list is, to raise awareness and push for stronger legislation to restrict robo-calls.
More than a dozen states already have laws banning or limiting robo-calls in some way, for example, restricting when or how often they can be made.
But while some states, like
has appealed his ruling, but the confusion has
called into question robo-calls made before
Just before the primary, the nonprofit group Women’s Voices. Women Vote put out automated calls that did not identify the group, but urged voters to complete a voter-registration packet that would arrive by mail. But the mail-in voter-registration deadline in the state had passed, and the organization’s instructions confused already registered voters.
misinformation, the robo-calls may have
case is being investigated by Attorney General
Roy Cooper, who is
supporting a bill that would strengthen the
state’s existing law by
including campaign robo-calls in
“People in North Carolina who have signed up for the Do Not Call Registry have said loud and clear that they don’t want to be bothered with telephone solicitations,” Cooper said in a letter to the state’s political parties that asked candidates to voluntarily comply with the do-not-call list.
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) agrees. “People should be able to decide whether political robo-calls are something they want to be receiving,” Arneson said. After hearing complaints from previous campaigns and getting the calls himself, Pileggi sponsored a bill banning political robo-calls to those on the state’s do-not-call registry.
Dakin blames the failure of most similar bills in other states on election jitters.
“Lawmakers facing reelection are very reluctant to regulate anything that will hurt them in the election,” Dakin said. “There’s example upon example of ‘let’s get some good press,’ but most of these bills die in subcommittee.”
Bills have recently failed in
than twice as many voters said they received
robo-calls than personal
campaign calls in the primary season up to
mid-March than last
November, according to an April 3 survey by the
The report pointed out,
however, that an “overwhelming” number of
While this data demonstrates that robo-calls may not be very effective, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says they may also hurt democracy.
“Not only is (the practice) interfering with the privacy rights of Americans, but it can turn people away from the political process itself,” Feinstein said at a Senate Committee on Rules and Administration hearing on a bill she and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., co-sponsored to restrict political robo calls to daytime hours. It also limits robo-calls to no more than two a day to the same phone number. The committee is considering the bill.
“We see a clear need for restrictions on political robo-calls,” said Cooper in his testimony at the hearing. “At best, these unsolicited automatic calls interrupt home life and family time. At worst, the calls can cut access to emergency help and medical assistance.”
On the House side, Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Jason Altmire, D-Pa., have sponsored separate but similar legislation that would add political robo-calls to the National Do Not Call Registry.
Because states are having a tough time passing legislation and federal bills are still pending, Richard Gilmore, head of the robo-call firm, Democratic Dialing, believes it is time for the industry to step in.
“What I’d like to see is self-governing within the industry,” Gilmore said, hoping that this would prevent the industry “from being legislated out of business” by lawmakers trying to quell the anger of their constituents.Contact Stateline.org at: firstname.lastname@example.org.