Sunday, November 05, 2006

'False Flag' Robocalls

The 'robocall' is the most useful arrow in the quiver of the modern political consultants. This refers to an automated phone call which plays a pre-recorded political message when you pick up the phone. Here in Massachusetts, I have heard two robocalls this political season, both from Republicans regarding the governor's race: one was a negative robocall about Deval Patrick from a 'victim's rights' advocate and the other was from the prospective Republican lieutenant governor Reed Hillman focusing on...illegal immigration. Modern politics on both sides loves the robocall because it is inexpensive compared to live phone banking, can reach millions of people in hours and get far less scutiny and regulation than ads on radio or tv. People on the ground doing GOTV (get-out-the-vote) efforts in multiple states across the country have been noticing a very malevolent twist to the usual robocall this year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (or the House GOP campaign)is sponsoring a harassing robocall variation targeting likely Democratic voters and uncommitted with the intent of getting them pissed off. These calls appear to be from the local Democratic candidate (starting with something like "I'm calling with information about [fill in name of Democratic candidate].") and automatically call the same number back as many as eight times each time the caller hangs up. If the caller listens to the whole message, it goes on to badmouth the Democratic candidate. But if the caller hangs up before they reach that part of the message, the computer automatically calls back, making the recipient think that the Democratic candidate is harassing them.

As TPM describes one call from CT-4(Shays vs. Farrell):
Apparently the call starts with something along the lines of "Diane Farrell has some information for you," then pauses, waiting for annoyed people to hang up, and then delivers a negative message about Farrell. The canvassers say the call has hit some people as much as 6 times, and at 5 - 6am as well. Presumably, the intent is to annoy people and stick Farrell with the negative name ID as somebody who keeps robo-calling them.
Also in the 19th District of NY where Democrat John Hall is battling the Foley-coddling Sue Kelly:
When I was handing out palm cards, several people said to me something like, "I WAS going to vote for John Hall, until I got all those phone calls. I got seven or eight, right at dinner time."

The guy from the Republican table, who was a local district leader-- friendly and chatty, actually came over to me and said, "You know, most of those are coming from Sue's office, but don't tell anybody."
Similiar deceptive robocalls have been noted in NH-2 (Bass vs. Hodes); IL-6 (Roskam vs. Duckworth); IL-8 (McSweeney vs. Bean); KS-2 (Ryun vs. Boyda); and CA-4 (Doolittle vs. Brown), as well as many other races. This tactic has reminded some of similiar shenanigans during 2002 New Hampshire campaign from the Republicans.

Once again, Republicans are trying to sabotage an election. I know, shocking. Of course, this is a gross violation of federal regulations which mandate that robocalls indicate clearly their origin, as well as the repetitive call back being a violation of various state regulations. FCC rules say all prerecorded messages 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." During or after the message, they must give the telephone number of the caller. But the groups placing these calls factor in the price of whatever fines they may be subject to after the election when the damage has been done.

And they are now even admitting to this sinister trickery as the Concord Monitor notes:
The National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $20,000 on the calls last week. Depending on the rate, that could mean more than 300,000 automated phone calls into the Second Congressional District.

Incumbent Republican Congressman Charlie Bass denounced the calls yesterday and said he tried to get the NRCC to put a stop to them. But a spokesman for the NRCC said the automated phone calls would continue indefinitely.

"The calls will continue as planned," said Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the NRCC, the national group charged with electing Republicans to the House. "They are done independently of Charlie Bass's campaign. He has nothing to do with them."
If pressed these hacks will no doubt say something like "we are just trying to inform voters about so-and-so's record." The good news is that even as these desperate calls continue, observers are starting to notice, but whether Republicans can fudge the election within the margin of theft for their voter suppression and crooked electronic voting machines will remain to be seen.

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