Monday, December 07, 2009

Are politician robocalls part of freedom of speech?

A couple of states have placed restrictions to cover politicians' calls soliciting donations and votes under their Do Not Call restrictions. The national law exempted politicians and now some groups that solicit donations are petitioning the FEC to rule on whether states can place further limitations than the federal law.
The view of the agency and lawmakers was that such messages should enjoy broad free-speech protections. But that exemption hasn't stopped a large number of states from imposing restrictions on such calls. Two states, Arkansas and Wyoming, have even banned them.

Robocalls are one of the cheapest ways to reach voters, and some candidates and political groups have chafed under the state restrictions, many of which require a caller to obtain permission from a phone subscriber -- often through an operator -- before placing an automated call. Now an Iowa-based conservative group, [@urlAmerican Future Fund Political Action,@] is trying to get the state laws overturned. On its behalf last month, the law firm Holtzman Vogel of Warrenton, Va., filed a request with the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion on whether federal election law supersedes state laws affecting elections, in the interest of national uniformity.

The issue is one of First Amendment rights, says Nick Ryan, the Iowa fund's chairman. "These regulations limit the ability of candidates and those of us who seek to advocate. It impinges on our right to communicate."

Ryan also notes that the restrictions -- which range from prohibitions to relatively minor limits on the hours of calling -- favor groups and candidates with the most money. That's because an automated call costs from 5 cents to 8 cents, by Ryan's estimate, while states that require a live operator to gain a voter's consent, such as Minnesota, drive the cost of each call to around $1. That's the same cost as a direct mail solicitation.
Once the Supreme Court has accepted campaign finance restrictions and rejected the reasoning that such limits violated the First Amendment, I don't see how restrictions on robocalls would be more of a restriction than limiting how much candidates can spend on advertising.

And let's face it. In the days of the internet, telephone solicitations are becoming so last century.

I always thought that the real reason for the exemption of politicians' calls by the federal law was not a sensitivity to free speech, but a sensitivity to the legislators' needs to raise money. Let's hope that the FEC upholds the bans in Arkansas and Wyoming. I'd love to see such a ban in my state.


tfhr said...

Whatever happened to the "Do Not Call" registry? I know charities are exempted from the restrictions put in place by the FTC but why not politicians and their fund raisers?

(if you have not registered and get unwanted telemarketing calls at home or on your cell, take a look at the link above)

Bachbone said...

The "Do Not Call" is a national joke. When you get a telemarketer's or political call, Google the number to see who called. You'll be surprised at the number of people who are fed up with the waste of time. Dozens of people get them and are on that "Do Not Call" list.

I found the only way to stop them was to buy a phone that lets me block the call. Panasonic makes such phones. (I don't have any connection to that manufacturer.) My model can block up to 20 such numbers. Press two buttons and that number is blocked. What a call comes from that number, the phone rings once, the number is recognized and it cuts off the call. It works. I don't even have to fool around looking to see who called. Eventually, the caller gets the message and stops. If they switch numbers, I simply block the next one. Periodically, I clear out the old blocked numbers to make space for new ones.

tfhr said...

I've had real good luck with the Do Not Call Registry. I also don't give out my home phone for any business related reason with medical or emergency contact info being the only exception.

If someone is insistent that's just too bad though I recall some times in the past where I swapped a bogus number or two in the mix so as not to have my actual number sold to telemarketers. Instead I use my cell which is tied to a Hawaiian number. I realized when I was living on Oahu that I never got telemarketing calls on my home line or cells. I think the time difference, small market, and other reasons translate the 808 area code into being deemed not worth the effort.

I wouldn't even have a land line here in Maryland if it were not necessary for our alarm system and even that line is a VOIP. The FTC "Do Not Call" program has done some good but it obviously has not worked as billed for you. Have you considered filing complaints with the FTC for those that violate the restrictions? Have you updated your "Do Not Call" info? I recall that there was a time when I had to go back in and "renew" my registration request. Is it possible that you're getting these calls because you've been purged from the list?

Anyway, it sounds like Panasonic and the free market have worked out the problem to your satisfaction but we still don't have the answer to the question about robocalls from politicians. However there seems to be a number I vaguely, that's not it. Oh yeah - 1-800-TERM-LIMITS!

Timothy said...

Personally, when I receive a robocall I put the phone down and walk away. This allows the robocal to run and reduces the number of calls per hour that reach actual humans. I encourage others to do the same.

BTW, this also works great for telemarketers that launch into scripts and don't seem to pause to inhale. I allow them to read on indefinitely.

John A said...

Tw other areas of concern: Fax machines and cell phones.

Why? Because calls to these often involve charges to the RECEIVER of the calls.

Some years back I was placed on the mailing list for a PAC. The idiots sent mail solicitations for money as Registered Mail! Since the notices left did not include the name of the sender I had to take time off work to pick it up - after all, it could be an IRS notification or some such.

Letters sent to the PAC asking to be dropped had no noticeable effect.

After the third of these mailings, I asked a Post Office person what would happen if I refused delivery. I was told that it would be sent back, and the sender would have to pay for the return. After two such refusals, I was dropped from the list...

Would that there be such a method for dealing with "robo" calls.