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Democrats Calls For Probe Over GOP "Robocalling"

Democrats Call for Federal Probe Over GOP "Robocalling"

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 07 November 2006

Democratic congressmen John Conyers and John Dingell called for a federal investigation late Monday evening into a last minute ploy by Republicans to swing the midterm election by inundating registered Democrats with harassing prerecorded telephone calls trashing the candidates they intend to vote for.

In a letter sent Monday evening to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, and Michael Toner, chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Conyers and Dingell questioned the legality of a tactic known as "robocalling," in which voters are led to believe calls are coming from a Democratic Senate or Congressional candidate in a certain district, but they actually generate from the Republican challenger or incumbent.

"We write to demand an immediate investigation concerning allegations of ... possibly illegal prerecorded phone calls designed to confuse voters in Tuesday's election," said the letter sent to Gonzales, Martin, and Toner. "These misleading calls are made late in the evening, or during the night, in an effort to generate anger at the Democratic candidate, who is in no way associated with this harassment. In fact, the calls are being funded by the National Republican Campaign Committee, which has reportedly provided $600,000 to fund this deception."

On the eve of what has become the most anticipated midterm election in the nation's history, questions are already being raised about deceptive and unethical practices by Republicans, who are lagging in the polls, that are aimed to quell voter turnout.

The calls, which began last week and continued late into Monday evening, have increased tenfold and are now largely directed toward states where Republicans trail Democrats, according to some news reports. Voters who immediately hang up on the prerecorded message have reported that they are phoned again and again.

The Associated Press reported that one person in the Philadelphia area "received three prerecorded messages in four hours. Each began, 'Hello, I'm calling with information about [Democratic candidate] Lois Murphy.'" The Philadelphia Daily News reported that "[t]he calls, which begin by offering 'important information about Lois Murphy,' are designed to mislead voters into thinking the message is from her."

Perhaps not surprisingly, White House political adviser Karl Rove reportedly is closely connected to one firm that has been hired to dial the digits of Democratic voters. According to the online investigative news magazine TPM Muckraker, Feather, Larson & Synhorst DCI are behind tens of thousands of annoying telephone calls in at least 10 hotly contested districts.

"I know these guys," White House political guru Karl Rove boasts on the Web site of Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI, which has been making robocalls to voters on behalf of the NRCC - many of them confirmed to be harassing, TPM Muckraker reported late Tuesday. "They work as hard to win your races as you do."

According to, Feather, Larson & Synhorst "has been one of the largest corporate recipients of funds from the Republican National Committee in 2004. FLS-DCI has close ties to key White House advisor Karl Rove and others in the GOP."

Federal law requires that prerecorded telephone messages must "[a]t the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call." Many of the telephone calls do not have a return phone number appearing on caller identification receivers.

"Section 441h of the Federal Election Campaign Act provides that no agent of a federal candidate shall 'fraudulently misrepresent himself or any committee or organization under his control as speaking or otherwise writing or acting for or on behalf of any other candidate or political party.' Section 441d(d)(2) specifies that communications must provide a statement as to the party responsible for it, and the campaign finance laws generally prohibit fraudulent and deceptive activities," Dingell and Conyers write. "A number of state laws also appear to be applicable, such as New Hampshire's, which prohibits calls to individuals on the federal Do Not Call registry."

A report in Sunday's New Hampshire Union Leader said that a "national Republican group yesterday scuttled a prerecorded phone call effort the state Attorney General's Office said may have violated New Hampshire law by contacting residents listed on the federal Do Not Call registry."

Earlier Monday, when word leaked out that the volume of calls to registered Democratic voters increased, Bob Bauer, general counsel for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sent a cease and desist letter to Don McGahn, general counsel of the National Republican Campaign Committee, saying the calls clearly violated federal communications and election laws.

"The NRCC calls do not identify at the outset, and as required, that they are sponsored by the NRCC," Bauer wrote. "These calls do no contain a telephone number. This failure to comply with the law denies callers effective sponsorship information. Without the benefit of a number, they are also unable to request that they not be called again. And we have received reports that individuals have been contacted multiple times by your prerecorded calls, despite their continued refusal to accept the calls."

McGahn, in a sarcastically worded response, said: "Thank you for your press release. Per your request, this is to let you know that there is no need for the NRCC to, in your words, bring its activities into compliance with Federal law, because NRCC activities are already in compliance with Federal Law." "In fact, with respect to telephone disclaimers, we have simply copied what your own national committee does," McGahn added. "I have a recording of a prerecorded phone message from DNC counsel Joe Sandler which contains the same sorts of disclaimers (including placement) as NRCC calls. Maybe you ought to send a letter to the DNC as well?"


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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