Election 2008

robocalls, robo-calls, do-not-call list, political calls
Kelley McCall/AP
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon

States Confront Automated Political Calls

September 03, 2008 12:28 PM
by Emily Coakley
Missouri’s attorney general plans to enforce rules regarding political “robo-calls,” making it the latest state to take action against the practice.

Voters Complain in Missouri

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is also running for governor, announced this week that he plans to crack down on people who aren’t following the rules regarding “robo-calls.” He sent letters to 2,000 campaign treasurers throughout the state warning them of the consequences, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Violations of the federal law regulating such calls can result in fines of up to $1,500 per instance.

“Nixon said he received hundreds of complaints in the weeks before the August primary elections about political robo-calls,” reported the Post-Dispatch. “Many of them involved pre-recorded calls that failed to identify who was calling or provide any contact information, he said.”

Phuong Cat Le, in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog entry, said national do-not-call legislation allows political organizations, surveys and charities to call people who have opted out of other calls.

Le says the voicemails are supposed to include an organization and phone number so people can call and get taken off the group’s list.

Nixon’s announcement comes shortly after the Federal Trade Commission introduced gradual but severe restrictions to automated calls.

Stephanie Condon reports on CNET that as of December, the calls will have to have “an automated key-press or voice-activated opt-out.” In a year, companies will only be able to use automated calls for people who have agreed, in writing, to receive them.

Condon said the rules still allow some calls, such as those by doctors to remind patients of appointments. But political calls aren’t subject to the rules, CNET reports.

Though legislation has been introduced in Congress, some states are taking matters into their own hands to stop the calls.

In February, the Georgia Senate passed a bill banning automated calls, including those from politicians.  According to the Journal-Constitution, the bill would still allow schools, public safety officials and some businesses to make the calls. State Sen. Eric Johnson, who introduced the bill, said he was “tired of the calls interrupting family dinners,” the paper reported.

Opinion & Analysis: Ending harassment

Shaun Dakin of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry doesn’t think the federal law can be applied to political calls. As he understands it, political calls don’t ask people to buy goods or give contributions. To him, the “bottom line” is that legitimate automated calls will continue, and so will the illegal ones, but no one will know where they came from. “Voters will continue to be harassed by politicians and having their privacy invaded,” wrote Dakin, who is creating a national political do-not-call registry.

An editorial in the Cherry Hill Courier-Post urges lawmakers in the southern part of New Jersey to support a bill introduced in the state legislature to ban the political calls. According to the editorial: “Joining a do-not-call list should block a person from all such calls, including those from political campaigns.”

During last year’s run-up to the presidential primaries, Slate wrote about “the travesty of political robo-calls.” Calls have helped end campaigns, such as Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana and John McCain’s previous presidential run in 2000, according to William Saletan.

“There’s one good way to defeat the robots. When they call, don’t hang up. Note which candidate they’re badmouthing, and vote for him. That’s the kind of feedback political operatives understand,” Saletan wrote. 

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