If you have a landline telephone, it’s something you’ll probably be hearing between now and November. It’s a robocall, and it’s a popular tool for political campaigns.
It’s an effective way to get a message out in a concise 30 second clip,” says Jefferson County Republican Party Chair Brad Cummings. “Some people don’t watch television, maybe don’t listen to the radio, but everyone has a phone.”
Cummings says candidates frequently use automated calls to get their message to voters, especially if the campaign’s war chest is getting a bit lean.
“You’ll see a lot of the downticket candidates who have limited budgets or limited funds raised, they’ll invest in the robocalls or the autodialers for that particular reason,” he says.
But it’s not just cash-strapped candidates using the calls. Congressman John Yarmuth employed the technology in his 2006 campaign and will do so again in his re-election bid this year.
“Obviously robocalls are less expensive to reach each person than even direct mail is,” says the Congressman.
“Our retail is 15 cents per number for 3 attempts for a 30 second message,” says Jerry Pizet.
Pizet is the Vice President of the Database Systems Corporation, an Arizon-based company that provides the technology for automated calls. He says because his business offers a more feature-rich robocall service, it’s a little expensive, but he says worth it.
“Typically, if you were to take a normal day, you could expect about 84% of the messages to be delivered,” he says.
Anyone in Kentucky can receive political robocalls; the “Do Not Call” registry only applies to telemarketers, but some states are extending the registry to cover political calls. Other states are banning them altogether, including New Hampshire, California, North Dakota and Indiana.
“I’m sure there are citizens of Kentucky who envy their neighbors across the Ohio River who have more peace and quiet,” says Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.
Carter is defending a challenge to the ban that was recently argued before the state supreme court. Political groups who oppose the ban say their political speech is being limited. Carter disagrees.
“If we go back to the last couple campaigns and you ask citizens if they’ve received enough of it, what with the communications over the internet, over the telephone with live calling, messages through the mail, through television through radio,” he says. “If you ask the average citizen if their speech has been restricted, I think they’d say no.”
There’s been legislation floated to ban robocalls in Kentucky, but it hasn’t passed. In the meantime, many local campaigns are keeping robocalls in their playbooks. Both Congressman Yarmuth and his opponent, Anne Northup, will or have used a variation called the tele-town hall.
“This is a new technology that allows thousands of people to participate over the phone in a town hall meeting,” says Yarmuth. “So I’m in my office in Washignton and we place automated calls to thousands of people alerting them that I’m going to be doing this in a few minutes and they can click through and participate in the meeting.”
But Yarmuth does admit the calls can be irritating. And even robo-call business owner Jerry Pizet agrees.
“As a consumer, yes, they are annoying and that’s one of the reasons I do sign up for the do-not call list to eliminate junk calls,” he says.
Pizet could also avoid those calls by moving to Indiana, if the robo-call ban holds up in court.