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RoboCops Needed for KY Political Robocalls?

PHOTO: old telephone wrapped in cord. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
PHOTO: old telephone wrapped in cord. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
July 9, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Hold the phone! Robocall season is under way in Kentucky, along with election season. Political robocalls are exempted from National Do Not Call Registry regulations, and some families have been targeted for several calls a day.

Shaun Dakin founded the National Political Do Not Contact Registry in 2007, in hopes that candidates would use the list to refine their calling logs. He describes robocalls as "disrespectful" of voters because they're one-sided conversations.

"Robocalls are kind of the perfect example of a marketing political machine with no civil discourse, no debate, no democracy. It's phone spam. You can't have a debate with a robocall."

He says many times, a call sounds like it's coming from a candidate, but it's really from a PAC, and the "disclaimer" is impossible to understand unless the call is recorded and listened to several times. In Kentucky, automated calls used for conducting polls must identify the caller and are limited to the hours from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Dakin says the calls are more than annoyance. He's collected stories from around the country about how the calls tie up lines being kept open for emergencies, disrupt the sleep of night-shift workers, and cause disturbances for people with mental-health issues.

"Senior citizens answer the calls, they have dementia, they get confused, they get agitated, the adult children have to leave their jobs and have to come home, and they have to take care of their parents."

He adds that there has been some research done showing the calls are ineffective, and can alienate voters who support whatever candidate or cause they represent. He's also documented cases where families have received ten political robocalls in one day.

The website is at StopPoliticalCalls.org. Details of state rules are at www.ilga.gov.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - KY