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Jill Porter | GOP 'robocall' tactics make me sick
Philadelphia Daily News, November 1, 2006

BEING SICK in bed, which I was for the past couple of weeks, is bad enough.

But being sick in bed while living in a political combat zone - in this case, the 6th Congressional District - is enough to MAKE YOU WANT TO KILL SOMEBODY.

My God, the phone calls! Just as I'd begin to drift off to sleep, the phone would ring and it would be YET ANOTHER DAMN COMPUTERIZED MESSAGE ABOUT LOIS MURPHY.

One, two, three, four times a day it seemed, the phone rang with "robocalls" about the Democratic challenger to incumbent GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach in one of the nastiest races in the country.

I never listened to one word of it, just slammed the phone down and seethed with resentment.

Now, there's an effective campaign strategy, I thought: Infuriate the voters so much that they won't vote.

What part of "Do Not Call" don't campaign advisers get?

Sure, "political speech" is exempt from FCC regulations prohibiting unwanted phone solicitations. But since most Americans consider unsolicited calls an invasion of privacy, why would any campaign flood voters with prefab rhetoric?

Yes, the tactic is cheap - in many cases, pennies a phone call, compared with the $15 to $30 an hour pols used to have to pay for telemarketers to call the old-fashioned way.

There are dozens of online computerized-call firms available to do the dirty work. And it's much cheaper in a costly media market such as Philadelphia to use robocalls than to pay for TV ads.

But if they annoy voters rather than enlighten them, what's the point?

That's what I asked Lois Murphy's campaign yesterday.

The answer was simple:

"It's not us!"

Only three recorded calls have been made on behalf of Murphy's campaign, including one from Gov. Rendell, which were sponsored by the Democratic State Committee.

The rest? A "dirty trick" by the Republicans, said communications director Amy Bonitatibus.

The calls, which begin by offering "important information about Lois Murphy," are designed to mislead voters into thinking the message is from her.

Most recipients slam down the phone before finding out otherwise - and then call to complain.

"We've got a ton of complaints, starting about two weeks ago," Bonitatibus said.

"Some of our biggest supporters have said, 'If you call me again, I'm not voting for Lois.' "

Ah, a great tactic on behalf of Gerlach's campaign, then?

Not so, said John Gentzel, communications director. "We've only done a handful - maybe five - in the last couple of months."

Gentzel said they use admittedly unpopular robocalls only to respond quickly to misinformation in a political mailer about Gerlach's voting record.

"This is not us. We're sorry. We're not making these calls."

The culprit in this race is the National Republican Congressional Committee, an organization that's used such scurrilous campaign tactics this season that it has been disavowed in some instances by the candidates it is supporting.

In the past week alone, FCC records reflect $22,119 for anti-Murphy phone-bank expenses, said NRCC spokesman Ed Petru.

If the robocalls cost a dime, which is a high estimate, that would be 220,000 calls right there.

Petru said the agency wouldn't be spending its money on robocalls if they weren't working.

"We don't think there's such a thing as an overinformed voter."


You can complain to the FCC if you think the calls are illegal, as some Murphy supporters have done. (202-418-1440, phone; 202-418-0232, fax.)

Or you can do what I briefly considered yesterday: Send the NRCC your own robocalls telling it to STOP IT!

Try www.voiceshot.com - 12 cents a call, no minimum. The NRCC's number is 202-479-7000.

That taste of its own medicine would make me feel much better after two weeks sick in bed.

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