Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Political robocall annoyance moves to cell phones

With Election Day here, take a moment to celebrate temporary relief from the robocall.

Campaigns around the state turn to the quick, cheap outreach to prod voters to the polls. You've heard them: "(pause) Hello, this is So-And-So, and I'm calling to urge you to join me in supporting Blah-De-Blah." Good for you if the message got that far before you hung up.

It may only be worse the next election cycle. As cell phones displace landlines in a quarter of American households, robocalls aren't just for the dinner table anymore.

Especially if your cell phone is your primary number — the one you used, say, on your voter registration form — you may have been interrupted by a political message during a meeting or running errands.

"Whether you vote early this weekend, or on Election Day, vote Yes on amendments 5 and 6. …"

That's even though the Federal Communications Commission says it's illegal. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act doesn't allow auto-dialed or prerecorded phone calls to cell phones without permission — even from politicians. Robocallers are supposed to weed those numbers from databases.

There's no such prohibition for landlines, even if you're on the national do-not-call list. The Federal Trade Commission exempts political calls from its telemarketing rules. So voters this week heard Robert Wexler, Al Lawson, Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton and Bob Dole, all stumping for candidates in living rooms and kitchens across the state.

"When the far-right-wing party bosses passed a bill to punish teachers and harm public education, one man said no and vetoed it. …"

"There's not a heck of a lot you can do about this issue," said Shaun Dakin, a former Democratic phone bank volunteer who's trying to do something about it.

Dakin, 44, founded the National Political Do Not Contact Registry at StopPoliticalCalls.org. More than 200,000 people have added their names to his database, which he communicates with political campaigns — which often ignore it.

He hopes to convince campaigns that the calls irritate voters for little or no payoff.

"The facts are, nobody really listens to them, they annoy people — they really don't work," he said.

So why are campaigns' robocall addictions getting worse? (By 2008, they were the top campaign outreach, according to the Pew Research Center.)

One, the calls are quick. Charlie Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat running against U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, used a robocall Monday to answer a mailing from Young that he thought "distorted the truth."

"It's the only way we had time to respond," he said.

Plus, it's cheap.

"It costs pennies," said Steve Pearson, who worked on John McCain's presidential campaign and is a consultant on new media. "Even if it doesn't work, at that level of expense, it's hard for a campaign manager to stand up and say, 'We're absolutely not going to do it.' "

David Custin, a political consultant in Miami who usually works for Republicans, bristles at the idea that campaigns should stop just because voters may find the calls annoying.

"If a certain means of communication is a nuisance, they all are," he said, citing rampant TV ads and a flood of mailers. "A consultant's job is to use every means to get a message to a voter."

It's getting easier to harvest cell numbers, by cross-matching voter registration data with other information on the Web, such as social networking profiles. In September, Pearson saw a news release from a polling firm offering to sell voter records with cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses attached so campaigns could use an e-mail-to-text service.

"It caught my attention," he said. "That's new."

The rush to reach voters on their cell phones will only speed up in 2012, Pearson projects.

It's voters who wish it would slow down.

In Jacksonville on Monday, just outside the Country Cabin Restaurant where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink stopped for breakfast, a man groused.

"If Ms. Sink wants my support, she can pass a bill that says they can't call me 10 hours a day," said Glenn Shelton, 55, a Republican. "It's just ridiculous. I don't want to answer the phone 45 times from dinner to 9 o'clock."

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Becky Bowers can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.

Political robocall annoyance moves to cell phones 11/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive

    World

    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  2. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.
  3. 'Me too': Alyssa Milano urged assault victims to tweet in solidarity. The response was massive.

    Human Interest

    Actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

    Within hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing. By 3 a.m. Monday, almost 200,000 metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count.
  4. Tampa tax shelter schemer too fat for his prison term, attorney says

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced two Bay area men to prison terms last week for peddling an offshore tax shelter scheme that cost the IRS an estimated $10 million.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.

  5. Weinstein Co., overwhelmed by backlash, may be up for sale

    Corporate

    NEW YORK — The Weinstein Co., besieged by sexual harassment allegations against its namesake and co-founder, may be putting itself up for sale.

    Weinstein