was engaging in some of the usual snappy
political repartee on Twitter on Sunday when
the strangest thing happened. I got the idea
for this column.
social media works in my experience: 2 percent
worthwhile information; 98 percent waste of
In this case, Shaun
Dakin, founder of the free, nonprofit National
Political Do Not Contact Registry, saw my tweet
criticizing robocalls and tweeted
You know robocalls — those recorded
phone messages from campaigns or interest
groups urging you to support this or that
annoying lots of Wisconsinites lately, as Sandy
Chalmers, administrator of trade and consumer
protection at the state Department of
Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection,
goes, people ask, "Can't you do something about
this? It's driving me crazy."
Political speech — even obnoxious, recorded
political speech — is exempted from the
Wisconsin and federal do-not-call lists, and
there long have been concerns that restricting
it would violate the First Amendment.
Dakin's aim has been to
maintain a list of people who don't want to get
the calls and ask campaigns to respect
And while his 50 percent
success rate isn't stellar — "Most campaigns
simply don't care that much about voter
privacy," he said — he is helping bring
attention to the problem.
have been signs the states are starting to
Indiana requires a
live person to ask for permission before
playing a robocall, and in
Wisconsin, state Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Bellevue,
plans to reintroduce his 2011 bill to subject
robocallsto the state's do-not-call
annoys me about robocalls is their lack of
If you really want
my vote, have someone call me up and say
something like: "Look, Rickert, we've mined
your data and know you aren't likely to vote
for our candidate. What can we say to change
The answer might be
"nothing." But I'd sure give the candidate's
merits more thought than I would after hanging
up two seconds into his or her pre-recorded
I guess that's why
I continue to bother with Twitter. Political
sparring occasionally leads to some knowledge
and maybe even some agreement. You can't spar
with a recorded voice.
calls would be more costly than robocalls and thus reach
fewer voters, but Dakin points to research
showing robocalls don't get voters
to the polls anyway.
problem Dakin, Jacque and others of like mind
face is that, as Dakin said, "politicians know
that people's memories are very short."
Once the campaign's over, so is
the pressure to end robocalls.
Of course, the last year and a
half in Wisconsin has seemed like one long
If that results in
enough pressure to get Jacque's bill passed, it
just might make the Wisconsin recalls, oh, I
don't know, maybe 2 percent worthwhile.
Rickert at 608-252-6198 or email@example.com, as well as on
Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His
column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and