WITH Obama giving a stump speech in Berlin (Ich bin ein Illinoisan) and McCain visiting a German restaurant in the Midwest, I can say without reservation the silly season is upon us.
Well, not quite. The only thing missing are those robocalls in which the candidate — or some worthy surrogate — (Madonna? Susan Sarandon? Phil Gramm?) give a recorded spiel on how we should vote in November.
It’s July, so people may have forgotten receiving a deluge of annoying, intrusive automated calls from candidates during the presidential primary in February, usually at dinner time or when your favorite show is on TV.
Shaun Dakin, a marketer who founded the Web site StopPoliticalCalls.org, hasn’t forgotten. He’s collected 50,000 names from people who want to block these political robocalls.
While the federal Do Not Call Registry has about 160 million phone numbers on it, most of these Americans don’t realize that charities, market research and political calls are exempt.
“You can’t get too angry at charities. But nobody likes politicians. No one is very happy with political robocalls,” Dakin told me Friday morning.
Dakin is joined by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who co-authored legislation this year that would ban robocalls between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. and restrict political calls to no more than twice a day per telephone number.
Feinstein was awakened to the issue in February when she taped a political message for another candidate. Thousands of California voters heard: “Hi. I’m Dianne Feinstein …” when they picked up their telephones and were outraged. “They sent out the calls at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Dakin said.
Talk about the phone call at 3 a.m.
After getting a flood of calls from very real and very angry constituents at her senate office, Feinstein said “she learned her lesson” and would not make another robocall ever again. And, she set out to regulate the practice.
Feinstein and other legal experts believe that it is a violation of free speech to outlaw political calls. So, she’s chosen to regulate the worst practices.
Others wonder how effective these calls really are. In fact, some political strategists say they turn voters off.
But the issue gets down to money. Dakin said it once cost about 25 cents per call. Now, vendors have lowered that to 2 cents or less per call, making robocalls the cheapest form of political messaging. A Pew Internet & American Life Project study found it is the No. 1 form of congressional communication. The study found that 81 percent of Iowa voters received robocalls during the caucuses. Companies doing these calls would lose big bucks if the practice was stopped or curtailed.
There’s also a matter of the law. The calls are illegal according to California Public Utilities Commission’s own rules. Yet, the CPUC has not picked up a phone to call off these robotic nuisances. According to CPUC Code Sections 2871-2876 (http://law.justia.com/california/codes/puc/2871-2876.html), the call must begin with a “live” caller and he must ask permission of the person being called before hitting the play button. The “live” person must also identify the organization making the call.
This almost never happens.
As Dakin said, using live people would defeat the purpose.
Dakin said he’s received thousands of e-mails from people who are fed up with robocalls from political candidates.
Many are people who work at night and have had their sleep interrupted. Others are stay-at-home mothers whose infants are awakened from naps. Senior citizens — a high propensity voting bloc — report getting 15 or more calls a day.
If the state were to abide by the law, the caller would have to be live. At least the person answering the phone could have the satisfaction of venting to a live human being.