robo-call
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robo-call

Date: September 2, 2008
By: Chris Dunn
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HCS SB 49 and SCS SB 840

JEFFERSON CITY - Citing complaints from hundreds Missouri residents being harassed by political calls during the campaign season, Missouri's attorney general launched a campaign against illegal robo-calls by fellow candidates.

Attorney General Jay Nixon -- the Democratic candidate for governor -- said in a St. Louis news conference Tuesday that his office would seek to enforce a federal law that imposes requirements for calls that use an automated-dialing system and play a recorded message.

"Federal law is very clear in requiring that all phone calls using pre-recorded messages have to identify who is initiating the calls, and include the telephone number and address to reach them," said the attorney general's spokesperson, John Fougere. "And what the Attorney General is asking Missourians to do is - if they receive these robo-calls that are illegal, that don't comply with the law - to go ahead and file complaints to the office, so our office can take action against these political campaigns."

According to the statement released by Nixon's office, the treasurer of all political campaigns registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission will receive a reminder of applicable specifications of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Nixon's office will also inform the treasurers that penalties for violating the TCPA may include a fee as high as $1,500 per call.

In 2007, a bill to impose stronger restrictions on robo-calls cleared the Senate 33-0. Although sponsored by a Republican senator, the measure died in the GOP-controlled House where the leadership did not allow a vote.

The bill would have applied several modifications to the "No Call List", which governs calls by commercial firms to residential phones.

"I think this is a bipartisan issue," Missouri Democratic Party Communications Director Jack Cardetti said. "This is an issue where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground... Unfortunately, in the last session and in sessions past, there's been members of the Republican House leadership who have not felt that same way.

"The bill went through the Senate with almost no opposition, and was not even allowed to be voted on in the House," Cardetti also said. "So you draw your own conclusions as to who stopped that bill."

Fougere said Nixon has annually requested the General Assembly to increase the applicability and breadth of the No Call law.

"He's been very vocal in the seven years since Missouri's No Call law has become law, in calling for legislature to expand our law and afford Missourians greater protection by making sure that these annoying calls  that they get inundated with every election season are part of the No Call law," Fougere said. "But we haven't had a legislation that's agreed with that and passed the law."

Since its inception, the state's No Call list has grown to include 2.7 million phone numbers. Fougere said maintaining the list and increasing the number of restrictions related to it have been priorities for Nixon.

"This has been a very effective and, dare I say, wildly popular law," Fougere said. "To leave out these political robo-calls is to leave a big hole in the law. And the Attorney General feels very strongly that the legislature should step up, do its part and add this to our No Call law."

Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, is running for Attorney General on the Republican ticket. While he said he sees nothing wrong with using robo-calls in a campaign, he does take issue with robo-calls with no attribution or contact information.

"I adamantly disagree with using these anonymous, automated calls," Gibbons said. "I think that's absolutely wrong, and I would definitely support a change in the law that would eliminate them altogether."

Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, who is the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, has been using robo-calls, said his campaign spokesperson Danny Kanner. He said he did not know if Koster, if elected, would continue Nixon's position on robo-calls.

"Senator Koster is open to the idea of including political robo-calls on the No Call list, but absolutely believes it is essential that we in Missouri have a disclaimer on these calls... to avoid any instances where you have these attack calls that go unattributed to any candidate or political committee," Kanner said.