Anti-Obama text messages linked to Centreville firm

October 31, 2012

(Phone screenshot by Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

Tuesday night, I got an unsolicited anti-Barack Obama message on my cell phone: “Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions. Obama is just wrong,” read the text.

Judging from Twitter, that message and others like it (“the Obama administration perpetuated misinformation about Libya. Vote against Obama!”; “Obama is using your tax dollars to fund Planned Parenthood and abortions. Is that right”) hit many hundreds, if not thousands, of phones in the D.C. area.

The messages originated as e-mails, and they came from a variety of domains including votersett.com, informedett.com, republicanett.com and GOPmessage.com. (The “ett” suffix appears to refer to “e-mail to text” — more on that shortly.)

Those domains, as IT World reported Wednesday morning, are linked to ccAdvertising, a Centreville company that does direct voter contact via robocalls.

GoDaddy.com registration data currently lists “G Joseph” as the registrant behind those domains. Gabriel S. Joseph III is ccAdvertising’s president; attempts to reach him Wednesday were not immediately successful. The person who answered the phone at ccAdvertising Wednesday, after inquiring if I’d like to be added to a do-not-contact list, said Joseph was “not available” but would pass on a message.

According to DailyKos, the GoDaddy site earlier Wednesday listed the domains’ registrant as Jason Flanary, who ran last year as a Republican to represent Fairfax County in the Virginia state senate and has ties to ccAdvertising. A year ago, Virginia Democrats and others lodged complaints with authorities about similar texts carrying messages pertaining to Flanary’s race and other races.

CcAdvertising lists Burger King, the Washington Capitals, and various Republican politicians and groups among its clients. It’s unclear who may have paid for the Tuesday texts or otherwise authorized them, considering the utility of sending anti-Obama texts to the deep-blue 202 area code is questionable at best.

While spam text messages are generally illegal under federal law, Tuesday night’s political texts flew through a loophole because they were in fact sent as e-mails. Unsolicited political e-mails are exempt from federal spam restrictions.

In February, the Federal Communications Commission issued rules that would restrict the use of robocalls and “email-to-text” marketing for commercial purposes, but left political messages unscathed. In a news release, Joseph hailed the ruling: “We have not and will not engage in telemarketing using our proprietary … technologies. Free Speech is still protected.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · October 31, 2012