Correction to This Article
A Nov. 7 article about automated campaign calls incorrectly described Angela Elliott of Fairfax Circle as a registered independent and Jane Edmondson of McLean as a registered Democrat. Virginians do not register by party affiliation.
Page 2 of 2   <      

It's a Candidate Calling. Again.

Democrats cited federal records indicating that the NRCC recently spent about $600,000 in at least 45 contested House districts for robo-calls, which are among the least expensive campaign tools. The brief calls typically begin with a speaker offering "some information" about the Democratic nominee and then immediately accusing the nominee of seeking to raise taxes, among other perceived wrongs.

Many voters hang up as soon as a robo-call begins -- without waiting for the criticisms or the NRCC sign-off at the end -- so they think it was placed by the Democratic candidate named at the start, said Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Our candidates are inundated with phone calls from furious Democrats and independents saying . . . 'I'm outraged and I'm not going to vote for you anymore,' " she said.

Feinberg said some voters have received robo-calls late at night, despite federal rules barring such calls after 9 p.m. NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said his organization ends all calls by 9 nightly.

Democrats also cited Federal Communications Commission guidelines saying the originators of automated calls must identify themselves at the beginning of each call. Republican Party lawyers, however, said the requirement does not apply to political nonprofit organizations. They rebuffed a "cease and desist" letter sent yesterday by the DCCC.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, the DCCC chairman, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), compared the widespread robo-calling to a 2002 Republican effort in New Hampshire to jam Democratic phone lines to prevent the Democrats' get-out-the-vote effort. The Republican National Committee has spent more than $2 million to defend its officials in the case, he said. "Make no mistake, this is a dirty trick, one they've done before, one they've gotten caught on and one they continue to do," Emanuel said.

Karyn Hollis, a Villanova University English professor who supports Democrat Lois Murphy in her bid to oust Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), said she has received numerous robo-calls attacking Murphy. "You just get sick of these calls," Hollis said. A quick hang-up can lead the recipient to conclude that Murphy supporters placed the call, she said. Listening to the full message, she said, subjects the voter to a litany of attacks against Murphy.

"It's a double thing," Hollis said. "Either way they win."

Many robo-calls involve celebrities and are positive and straightforward, such as recordings from former president Bill Clinton urging voters to support Democratic nominees. In New Jersey, comic actor Joe Piscopo has recorded messages on behalf of GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr.

In Connecticut, NRCC robo-calls have targeted Dianne Farrell, the Democrat seeking to unseat Rep. Christopher Shays (R). Asked if Farrell has her own automated calls, campaign spokeswoman Jan Ellen Spiegel replied: "Only one, and it's rather distinctive because it's Paul Newman. We haven't gotten complaints about that one."

Staff writers Jonathan Weisman, Dale Russakoff and Michael Powell contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company