Even if you’re on Do Not Call registry,  political calls are legal

Nothing irritates Joana Hugus more than getting a phone call as she’s drifting off to sleep. The part-time worker rises at 4 a.m., so it really irks her to get up after 8 p.m. to answer the phone, only to learn it’s just another rapid-fire, recorded political message trying to earn her vote.

“Don’t you hate them?” Hugus asked, saying she receives about four political calls per day. “When I pick up the phone, I don’t even hear it. I cannot even imagine listening to the whole thing the whole way through.”

Like thousands of others in the Grand Valley, Hugus is another victim of robocalls, which are the automated telephone messages urging residents to vote a particular way.

Though Hugus is listed on the Do Not Call registry, political calls in the United States are exempt under the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003.

But Colorado voters may be particularly unlucky, said Shaun Dakin, founder of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry. Battleground states and districts with hotly contested seats and issues have some voters reportedly receiving from 10 to 15 robocalls per day.

Registration at Dakin’s free Web site, http://www.StopPoliticalCalls.org, should help alleviate the onslaught of political calls, he said.

Political groups pay a nominal free to receive the registrations of 85,000 people who have signed up so far to quit receiving the calls, Dakin said.

“The fact is that robocalls are so cheap (for campaigns) that they’ve become this election’s spam,” he said. “You can get 15 to 20 calls a day from 15 to 20 different groups, and each thinks they’re special.

It’s not. It’s just annoying, and it’s an incredible invasion of privacy.”

Robocalls affect stay-at-home mothers attempting to give their children naps and confuse some elderly folks who believe they are talking with another live person, only to have the message end,
Dakin said. Others worry the onslaught of calls could potentially affect emergency response times with the sheer volume of calls tying up phone lines.

Indeed, two robocalls were made and messages left to this reporter’s cell phone during a 20-minute interview with Dakin on Friday afternoon.

One message urged no votes for amendments 54, 49 and 47 and said it was paid for by Protect Colorado’s Future.

The other asked for a tax increase for infrastructure and staffing for local law enforcement through measures 2A and 2B.

“Our job’s been getting tougher to do,” said the message promoting local initiatives 2A and 2B. “We’ve seen an 81 percent increase in violent crime since 2000 ... We don’t even have an officer to monitor the over 250 sex offenders ... it would add 40 more police officer and equipment and facilities we need to protect you.”

The message left did not say who purchased the call.

A robocall needs to start with a statement of who’s paying for it and on whose behalf it is being made, said state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in February the No. 1 issue people call his office to complain about is robocalls.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the Legislature does need to act to protect Colorado citizens from the onslaught of robocalls that are invading their privacy and causing a great deal of annoyance,” Suthers said then.

This year’s batch of robocalls might spur state lawmakers to pick up where they left off last year, working on legislation to clamp down on the telephonic politicking.

Two bills aimed at banning certain types of robocalls, one sponsored by Buescher and another backed by Suthers, died during a February hearing after state lawmakers said they were nervous about selectively banning certain forms of political speech.

It’s doubtful robocalls even work, some residents said Friday.

“I just don’t answer them,” Grand Junction resident Jim Westermire said. “I know who I’m voting for. I don’t need their sales pitch.”

Westermire said he now screens calls and doesn’t answer unrecognizable numbers.

Dakin said voters without telephone landlines are sometimes surprised to get the messages on cell phones. That can be avoided by not offering a cell phone number on voter registration forms.

Studies show that most voters who receive calls hang up before the message is completed or erase messages before listening to them, Dakin said.

“Politicians know they can do this,” he said. “The election will come, and then they’ll stop, and then everybody will go about their life. They bank on the fact that voters will forget.”

Sentinel reporter Mike Saccone contributed to this report.


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