Democrats demand robo-call probes

Democratic representatives ask Justice, FCC, FEC to investigate misleading and harassing calls.

Published November 7, 2006 3:24AM (EST)

Democratic Reps. John Conyers and John Dingell are demanding that the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission investigate misleading and harassing robo-calls paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo has been tracking the calls. In them, a prerecorded voice tells voters that they're about to receive important information about a Democratic candidate. If the voter stays on the line, he or she hears negative information about the Democrat. If the voter hangs up, a computer dialer redials the same number repeatedly, misleading voters into thinking that they're being besieged by calls by a Democratic candidate.

In an interview with ABC News, DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel calls the calls "the worst of dirty tricks" -- particularly when they come very early in the morning or very late at night. Democratic candidates say the calls are making it harder for them to get information to voters, who believe they've already heard quite enough from the candidates. NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said the NRCC does not engage in off-hours calling.

In their letter, Conyers and Dingell said the allegations against the NRCC, "if true," could represent violations of several federal laws and other legal requirements. "Among other things, 47 CFR 1200 (b)(1) provides 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.' 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 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. 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."

Now that the harassing robo-calls are getting some attention from the Democratic Party and the mainstream press, Marshall is beginning to pass on anecdotal reports from Democratic voters who say they're getting calls telling them, falsely, that their polling places have been changed.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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