NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the 2012 presidential primaries get into full swing, many households, particularly those in states that hold early votes, may soon have to contend with a nuisance that plagues the nation once every two to four years: political robo-calls.
Nearly half of all voters received an automated phone call from a political campaign asking for donations by the time they voted in the 2008 presidential primaries, according to surveys that year from Pew Research, whereas just 16% of voters received calls from an actual person on the campaign. Unfortunately there’s little reason to think things will be different this year, and people's options to stop them are rather limited.
“Robo-calls are incredibly cheap and easy for political campaigns to do, and certainly at the end of a campaign, whatever leftover money there is often goes towards quickly recording a robo-call,” said Shaun Dakin, the CEO and founder of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, an online service that charges voters a small fee to sign up and make clear they do not want to receive political robo-calls. To date, some 200,000 individuals have signed up and the site has partnered with 17 politicians who promise not to call those on the list.
Dakin created the political registry in 2007 in an effort to expand upon the Federal Communication Commission’s Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to register their phone numbers if they do not want to be reached by automated telemarketers. In 2009, the federal government went one step further and actually banned robo-calling outright, but with three exceptions: nonprofits, market research firms and, you guessed it, political campaigns.
“The Do Not Call List has been an extremely effective tool for regulating robo-calls in general, but by law, political campaigns can pretty much call whoever they want, whenever they want,” Dakin said. A handful of states including Indiana, Oregon and Minnesota do have laws on the books that prohibit political robo-calling, but in the absence of federal legislation, residents in most states have little protection against these automated calls.
The FCC declined to comment on why political robo-calls are allowed or whether it will change in the future, but as Dakin points out, it seems unlikely that politicians would approve legislation that would ultimately limit their own fundraising capabilities.
There are several steps households can take to limit the number of robo calls they receive, but as Dakin points out, without legislation, none are guaranteed to stop the calls altogether.
For starters, Dakin recommends voters who have received calls go through the process of re-registering to vote, and this time, leave your phone number off so campaigns have a harder time tracking you down.
If the calls keep coming, Dakin says particularly frustrated residents can also take the time to contact the campaign headquarters of whichever politician is behind the calls, informing them that you won’t consider donating to the candidate – let alone vote for him or her – unless the calls stop. (This might also work to shoo away campaign canvassers going door-to-door.) Unfortunately, Dakin notes that many requests may get lost or ignored in the chaos of the campaign, and may be more of a hassle than a help.
In the future though, there may be one other option for annoyed consumers. Dakin plans to launch a new reverse robo-calling service in September that would let individuals record automated messages of their own, which Dakin’s business would then blast out to politicians around the country for a small fee, to give campaigners a taste of their own medicine.
“Who knows, perhaps politicians will get sick of getting robo-calls themselves and may think harder about doing away with them in their campaigns,” Dakin said.
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