Robocalls targeting women in the 6th district may be illegal; MoveOn.org sends out similar message on Delaney

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By Glynis Kazanjian
Glynis@marylandreporter.com

Robocall cartoon. by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Robocall cartoon. by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

A robocall targeting women in the western region of Maryland’s 6th Congressional District is apparently illegal, according to Potomac Tea Party blogger Ann Corcoran, a Washington County Republican who received the call at her home the afternoon of March 8.

The robocall, which was made on behalf of “the women of the 99%,-” — an organization that does not appear to exist – did not include an authority line during or at the end of the call, a provision required under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

The message claimed U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett was condoning the war on women by staying silent on recent comments made by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, “the defacto Republican party leader.” The caller instructed the listener to call Bartlett’s office and tell him he was shameful for allowing Limbaugh to continue to make comments that “insult, degrade, and verbally abuse women.”

Caller not identified

“I was really amazed,” said Judy Warner, a Washington County registered Republican who also received the call. “It came up as anonymous or with no identification. We get a lot of calls out here. With a political call, the group usually shows up – like right-to-work or the RNC. There was no attribution line at the end either.”

In early March, Limbaugh called Georgetown University student activist Sandra Fluke a slut after she testified on Capitol Hill opposing Republican led legislation that would have allowed contraception coverage to be optional under certain health insurance plans.

“Congressman Bartlett opposes Obama Care, and he opposes the contraceptive mandate because it violates the religious freedom of millions of Americans,” said Bartlett spokesman Ted Dacey.

One week after the robocalls were made in Western Maryland, MoveOn.org – an organization that recently endorsed Sen. Rob Garagiola in the 6th District race – issued a press release with a similar message, urging opponent John Delaney to speak out against Georgetown University’s “restrictive policy on contraception.”

Group targets Delaney

“The true test of someone’s character isn’t what they say, but how they act,” Sue Cohen, a Montgomery County MoveOn member named in the release. “Rob Garagiola has fought for choice and women’s health for his entire career. John Delaney, on the other hand, insists he’s pro-choice and would work to protect women’s health care, but when he had a chance to do just that as a member of Georgetown’s board, he was nowhere to be found.”

“Does Delaney support Georgetown’s incredibly restrictive policy on contraception? If not, why hasn’t he fought to change it?” asked Cohen. “Voters have a right to know whether Delaney will actually walk the walk to protect women’s health, or if he’s just talking the talk.”

When asked if he supported recent Republican legislation that would have allowed certain health care plans to omit contraception coverage, Delaney said he did not.

MoveOn, Garagiola deny responsibility

MoveOn.org and the Garagiola campaign denied they were behind the robocalls.

“We are 100 percent sure it’s not coming from MoveOn,” said MoveOn.org spokesman Michael Uehlein.

“I first read about these robocalls running in Ohio from the Drudge Report,” said Garagiola Campaign Manager Sean Rankin. “All we know about them is what’s in the press.”

The robocall efforts and the MoveOn.org press release indicate that women are being targeted in swing districts nationwide.

In Maryland’s 6th District, there are 23,594 more registered female voters than registered male voters, accounting for 53% of the overall voting population, according to State Board of Elections data. There are 219,851 registered female voters and 196,257 registered male voters.

Of the total female vote in the 6th, registered Democratic women account for 48% (106,595), registered Republican women make up 32% (69,831) and registered female Independents represent 19% (41,974). Montgomery County has the largest number of female voters in the 6th with 109,112, Washington County places second with 44,128 and Frederick County comes in third with 35,104.

The Maryland State Board of Elections website states:

“Maryland has no statute that specifically addresses the use of automated or “RoboCalls” in political campaigns. However, the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requires that all automated calls using pre-recorded messages comply with the technical and procedural requirements set forth under 47 U.S.C §227(d).”

According to this federal law, all prerecorded telephone messages –regardless of the type of message – must include:

  • At the beginning of the message, the identity of the business, individual, or other entity initiating the call; and
  • During or after the message, the telephone number or address of the business, individual, or other entity initiating the call.

The law also states that federal law preempts state law, but the enforcement bureau within the Federal Communciations Commission would not comment publicly on the robocalls.

Numerous conservative websites and blogs are reporting that the same robocall is being used in Illinois and Michigan as part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to Blue program.

“It is definitely the same phone call,” said Corcoran. “No doubt about it. The only difference is they give Bartlett’s name and a ‘301’ office telephone number.”