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No Recourse for Political Robocalls; Do Not Call List Does Not Apply

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

RICHMOND, Va. - Robocall season is under way in Virginia, 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, hoping candidates would use the list to refine their calling logs. He describes robocalls as "disrespectful" of voters, because they are one-sided conversations.

"Robocalls are 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."

Dakin condemns the calls as more than annoyances. He has collected stories from Virginia and around the country about how robocalls tie up lines being kept open for emergencies, disrupt the sleep of night-shift workers, and disturb people who have mental health issues.

"For example, if a senior citizen with dementia answers the call, they get confused, they get agitated, then their adult children have to leave their jobs and come and take care of their parent."

He adds that some research has shown the calls to be ineffective and can alienate voters who support the cause. He has also documented cases where families have received 10 political robocalls in one day.

Virginia is one of 13 states that require disclosure during an automated call of the person or entity paying for the call or for whom it is made. Often, however, a call appears to come from a candidate but is really from a Political Action Committee (PAC), Dakin says, and the "disclaimer" is impossible to understand unless you record the call and listen to it several times.

More information is available at www.StopPoliticalCalls.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA