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U.S. congressional elections in 2006: Robo Calls

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During the 2006 campaign, there were numerous reports of malicious automated telephone calls (robo-calls) in districts across the U.S. While the federal government does not ban prerecorded phone messages, the calls must “at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call.” In many reported instances, those responsible for the calls did not comply with this rule. [1] This page deals with reports of malicious robo-calls in the weeks and months preceding the elections.

Deception in 2006 robo-calls

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent at least $2.1 million on robo-calls during the 2006 campaign, covering at least 53 congressional districts. [2] NRCC spokesperson Ed Patru denied any malicious intent in regards to the calls, claiming that they were all, “in compliance with the law.”

The majority of reports concerning the calls, however, note that the NRCC did not take responsibility for the content of the call until the end of the prerecorded message. Rather, the calls typically began with the line: “Hello, I’m calling with information about [enter Democratic candidate].” Many consider this deceptive, for it is similar to the way a call would begin if it were from the Democrat. Indeed, in many instances, residents believed that Democrats were behind the NRCC calls (especially if they hung up after the first line). Some, in fact, claimed that the frequency of the calls led them to oppose the Democratic candidate at the polls. [3] [4]

State by state malicious robo-call reports

The following section details the reports of malicious robo-calls during the 2006 campaign by state.

Arizona

In Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District, a firm called Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Harry Mitchell. Mitchell defeated incumbent Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), 51%-46%. [5] [6]

California

In California’s Fourth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest Communications Group nearly $9,000 for robo-calls against Democratic House challenger Charlie Brown. [7] During the campaign, Brown’s campaign office received numerous complaints from constituents who believed that the calls were coming from the Brown campaign. In the days preceding the election, a spokesman for Republicans for Charlie Brown demanded that the calls stop, and also that a transcript of the calls be released for public scrutiny. There was no indication that the request was granted.

A former employee of Conquest noted that the firm specializes in “Nasty push polls" and that "anything goes." [8] After several years with the firm, the anonymous employee left the company, claiming, “Doing this stuff for the Republicans was, it gets distasteful after a while...Some of the scripts were pretty ridiculous.” [9]

Brown campaign spokesman Todd Stenhouse admitted that his campaign had also used robo-calls, but insisted that it placed only five in the two months preceding the election. [10] Brown lost the election, 49%-46%. [11]

Also in California, the NRCC paid Conquest to place calls in California's Fiftieth Congressional District opposing Democratic House challenger Francine Busby. [12] A staffer for Busby noted that the messages, “Start out sounding like they're from Francine Busby...most people get so annoyed they don't listen to the end...some people have been called 6, 7, 8 or 9 times.” [13] Bilbray defeated Busby, 54%-43%. [14]

Connecticut

In Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Democratic challenger Diane Farrell both claimed to be victims of robo-call campaigns. Shays, a ten-term congressman, said that over twenty robo-call campaigns were launched again him, although he did not identify who he believed was behind them. [15] The NRCC paid Conquest at least $3,348 for robo-calls against Farrell. [16] Shays defeated Farrell, 51%-48%. [17] [18]

In Connecticut’s Second Congressional District, Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Joe Courtney. Courtney defeated incumbent Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) by 167 votes. The NRCC also paid Conquest at least $11,000 for calls against Democratic challenger Chris Murphy in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District. Murphy defeated Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), 56%-44%. [19] [20] [21]

On Election Day, an anonymous individual reported that he received a robo-call in Connecticut featuring state Republican Party Chairman George Gallo. In the call, Gallo allegedly promised voters that if they voted for Republicans, the robo-calls would stop. [22]

Colorado

In Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District, Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Angie Paccione. Paccione was defeated by incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), 46%-43%. [23] [24]

Florida

In the three weeks preceding the election, the NRCC spent $58,326 on robo-calls against Democratic candidate Christine Jennings in Florida’s Thirteenth Congressional District, according to FEC reports. It is believed that the funding paid for between 388,000 and 1.17 million calls in the district. The Herald Tribune quoted one woman as stating: [25] [26] "We're just glad it's all over...They bugged us with their phone calls something terrible." [27] She added that she voted for Buchanan because: "...with all her calls, Jennings, Jennings, Jennings, I wouldn't have voted for that woman if she were the only one running." [28] Republican candidate Vern Buchanan held a lead of only 373 votes against Jennings as the race headed for a recount in mid-November. [29]

In Florida’s Sixteenth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $10,000 for calls against Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney. Mahoney defeated Mark Foley, whose name remained on the ballot following his resignation in September 2006, 49%-48%. (See Congresspedia page on the Mark Foley page scandal). [30] [31]

Georgia

In Georgia’s Eighth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $8,000 for calls against Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.). Marshall defeated his Republican opponent, Mac Collins, 51%-49%. [32] [33]

In the state’s Twelth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $11,000 for calls against Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.). Barrow defeated his Republican opponent, Max Burns, by about 900 votes. [34] [35]

Illinois

In Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $8,000 for calls against incumbent Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Duckworth was defeated by Republican candidate Peter Roskam, 51%-49%. [36] [37]

In the state's Eighth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $10,000 for calls against incumbent Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.). Bean defeated Republican challenger David McSweeney, 51%-44%. [38] [39]

Indiana

On November 6, following reports that Conquest Communications had placed robo-calls in Indiana, the state Republican Party fired the firm. The party objected not to the conduct of the calls, but rather that they were automated, a clear violation of Indiana state law. When asked about the firing, state GOP spokesman Robert Vane stated, “That (robo-calls) is not what we contracted for.” Vane also noted that the party would refuse to pay the company. Under Indiana law, a recorded message can be delivered over the phone only if it is first introduced by a person who seeks and gets permission to play it. [40]

In addition to Conquest’s activities, Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Tom Hayhurst in Indiana’s Third Congressional District. Hayhurst was defeated by incumbent Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), 54%-46%. [41] [42]

Iowa

Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Bruce Braley in Iowa’s First Congressional District. Braley defeated Republican candidate Mike Whalen, 55%-43%. [43] [44]

In Iowa’s Third Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $9,000 for calls against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). Boswell defeated his Republican opponent, Jeff Lamberti, 52%-46%. [45] [46]

Kansas

In Kansas’ Third Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $4,093 for calls against Democratic candidate Nancy Boyda. Boyda defeated Republican incumbent Jim Ryun, 51%-47%. [47] [48]

Kentucky

In Kentucky’s Second Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $1,500 for calls against Democratic challenger Mike Weaver. Weaver was defeated by incumbent Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), 55%-45%. [49] [50]

In the state's Fourth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $11,000 for calls against Democratic challenger Ken Lucas. Lucas was defeated by incumbent Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), 50%-45%. [51] [52]

Maryland

Common Sense Ohio, a nonprofit advocacy organization financed by wealthy Republican donors, hired a calling firm, ccAdvertising, to dial robo-calls to voters in several states with hotly contested races during the 2006 campaign. In Maryland, one of their calls featured a question-and-answer sequence whereby recipients were asked whether they approve of “medical experiments on unborn babies.” When recipients answer “no,” they are then told that “(Democratic Senate candidate Ben) Cardin supports funding for embryonic stem cell research, which Steele opposes.” According to reports, the call identified the group responsible at the end of the call, rather than the beginning as is required by the FCC. [53] [54] [55]

Montana

Common Sense Ohio also placed calls in Montana, despite the fact that automated calls have been illegal in Montana since 1991. In one, an automated voice at the other end of the telephone line asks recipients whether they believe that judges who “push homosexual marriage and create new rights like abortion and sodomy” should be controlled. If one’s reply is “yes,” the voice replies that Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester is “not right for you.” [56]

Also in Montana, three supporters of Republican Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said that they received automated telephone calls from the International Firefighters Union’s political action committee criticizing the GOP incumbent. One of the supporters stated, “It was a recorded thing...The guy (on the recording) said that Burns had voted against funding firefighters 16 times. He did say he was a firefighter. I listened to who paid for it, and it was the international union.’’ [57]

In addition, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported last year that both Democratic challenger Jon Tester and his Democratic primary rival, John Morrison, had used automated calls to raise campaign funds. The two Democrats then stopped making the automated calls from their campaigns. [58].

Nebraska

In Nebraska’s Third Congressional District, hundreds of robo-calls were reported in Central Nebraska. The calls gave damaging information about Democratic candidate Scott Kleeb. Deb Quirk, a Democratic Party official in Adams County, stated that volunteers had received numerous calls from citizens irritated at the party because of the calls. While the Kleeb campaign claimed it did not know about the calls, the NRCC paid GOP political firm Direct Strategies for approximately $3,500 of phone banking in the district, according to FEC filings. [59]

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire's Second Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $5,725 for calls against Democratic challenger Paul Hodes. [60] [61] The calls violated state “Do Not Call” regulations. On Friday, November 3, 2006, Alex Burgos, a NRCC spokesman, stated “Because we're not a [NH] entity, that law does not apply” and “the group did not break the law.” [62] Jim Kennedy, however, an election law attorney in the state attorney general's civil bureau, said it is irrelevant where a group is located or who is making the calls. Rather, if the calls are made to New Hampshire citizens, it constitutes a violation of the law. [63]

New Hampshire law allows for a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each call. The NRCC had over 2,000 calls placed during the campaign. [64]

New Mexico

Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid in New Mexico’s First Congressional District. Madrid trailed incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) by slightly less than 1,500 votes after an initial counting of the ballots. [65] [66]

New York

In New York's Twenty-Fifth Congressional District, Democrat Dan Maffei lost by less than 4,000 votes out of over 200,000 cast to incumbent Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.). Hundreds of robo-calls were reported in the district. One voter described the experience by saying, “I assumed it was Dan Maffei's office that was calling me, so I called them and got upset and told them this would backfire on them.” Maffei's office reported that it took hundreds of similar calls from voters who did not wait until the end of the call to learn that it was Republican operatives behind the calls. In regards to the matter, Maffei stated, “For every person that calls us that we can straighten out, there are probably thousands more who think it's us, when in fact it's our opposition.” [67] [68] 13WHAM News in New York received multiple reports from voters who claimed they had received as many as seven robo-calls a day. Republicans denied calling any home more than once a day. [69] (Listen to a robo-call from this district [70]

In New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $15,000 for calls against Democratic challenger John Hall. Hall defeated Republican incumbent Sue Kelly, 51%-49%. [71] [72]

In the state's Twenty-Ninth Congressional District, a firm called Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC. A spokesman for Democratic House candidate Eric Massa noted late in the campaign, “We've been getting reports [about harassing calls] from voters for better than a week.” [73] Massa lost to incumbent Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.), 52%-48%.

North Carolina

In North Carolina’s Eleventh Congressional District, robo-calls opposing Democratic House challenger Heath Shuler were reported to be coming as late as 2:30 a.m. Shuler, whose campaign funded two robo-calls itself during the primary campaign but none for the general election, stated, “Calling people up, making people think it's me when it's actually them...it's acts of desperation...I think it's part of the corruption in Washington.” [74] Shuler defeated incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), 54%-46%. [75]

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $7,000 for robo-calls against Democratic challenger Lois Murphy. Voters reported that the source of the calls was not stated at the beginning of the message, a clear violation of FCC rules. [76] [77] [78]

Only three recorded calls were made on behalf of Murphy's campaign, including one from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, which were sponsored by the Democratic State Committee. [79] [80]

One voter, Karlyn Messinger, stated, "The way they're sent is deceptive. The number of calls is harassing. The way her stances are presented in these stories is deliberately misleading and deceptive." Messinger, along with several others from the district, filed a complaint with the FCC. [81] Murphy lost by approximately 3,000 votes. [82]

In Pennsylvania’s Tenth Congressional District, Democrat Chris Carney, who successfully challenged Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), claimed that voters had received numerous robo-calls. In these calls, voters were told to “Vote for Chris Carney” if they wanted higher taxes and other unpleasant results. The Carney campaign said that many voters called their office to complain of receiving the calls during dinner time, in the late evening and even in the middle of the night. Many of these constituents believed the calls were coming from the Carney campaign. The NRCC paid $4,000 to a firm called Direct Strategies for phone banks one week prior to the election. [83] Carney defeated Sherwood (R-Pa.), 53%-47%. [84]

Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania’s Fourth Congressional District. Altmire defeated incumbent Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), 52%-48%. [85] [86]

Tennessee

In addition to Maryland and Montana, Common Sense of Ohio also placed calls in Tennessee. After listeners were asked if terrorists should have the same rights as Americans, the following comparison between Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford and Republican candidate Bob Corker was given:

  • Fact: Harold Ford Jr. voted against the recommendations of the 9/11 commission and voted against renewing the Patriot Act, which treats terrorists as terrorists.
  • Fact: Bob Corker supports renewal of the Patriot Act and how it would treat terrorists. [87]

There was no indication that the group identified itself at the beginning of the call, as is required by the FCC. [88]

Texas

Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI carried out robo-calls for the NRCC against Democratic challenger Nick Lampson in Texas’ Twenty-Second Congressional District. Lampson defeated write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R-Texas), 52%-42%. [89] [90]

Virginia

In Virginia’s Second Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $14,000 for calls against Democratic challenger Phil Kellam. Kellam was defeated by incumbent Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), 51%-49%. [91] [92]

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin’s Eighth Congressional District, the NRCC paid Conquest at least $4,710 for calls against Democratic candidate Steve Kagen. Kagen defeated Republican candidate John Gard, 52%-48%. [93] [94]

DCCC response to NRCC robo-calls

On Election Day, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, compared the widespread robo-calling to a 2002 Republican effort in New Hampshire to jam Democratic phone lines to prevent the Democrats’ GOTV (get-out-the-vote) effort. He stated, “Make no mistake, this is a dirty trick, one they've done before, one they've gotten caught on and one they continue to do.” [95]

Post-election legislation in Congress

In the week following the elections, Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that the volume and content of robo-calls during the campaign was “absolutely wrong,” and that one of the first ten bills he would introduce in the 110th Congress would deal with such abuses. He stated, "We need to make these criminal penalties," rather than simply subject to civil liability. [96]

On November 16, 2006, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) introduced a bill aimed at curbing deceptive election practices, including robo-calls, in the future.

Resources and articles

Resources

External articles

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006