Just As I Thought

One ringy-dingy… two ringy-dingies…

We all know already that the Republicans are the masters of the dirty campaign — and now here’s the latest from their playbook:

Press one if you think they’re dirty tricks. Press two if you think prerecorded telephone messages are devastatingly effective, especially during the final days of a close campaign.

In at least 53 competitive House races, the National Republican Campaign Committee has launched hundreds of thousands of automated telephone calls, known as “robo calls.”

Such calls have sparked a handful of complaints to the FCC and underscore the usefulness of the inexpensive — and sometimes overwhelming — political tool.

“As much as people complain about getting automated calls and saying they don’t work, every politician is doing them,” said Jerry Dorchuck, whose Pennsylvania-based Political Marketing International will make about 200,000 such phone calls each hour for mostly Democratic candidates. “Targeted calls play a key in very close races.”

They can single out single women, absentee voters, independents and party faithful with tailored messages, but they also can frustrate voters. Sometimes, the latter is their goal.

Bruce Jacobson, a software engineer from Ardmore, Pa., received three prerecorded messages in four hours. Each began, “Hello, I’m calling with information about Lois Murphy,” the Democrat running against two-term incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach in the Philadelphia-area district.

“Basically, they go on to slam Lois,” said Jacobson, who has filed a complaint with the FCC because the source of the call isn’t immediately known.

FCC rules say all prerecorded messages must “at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call.” During or after the message, they must give the telephone number of the caller.

“The way they’re sent is deceptive. The number of calls is harassing. The way her stances are presented in these stories is deliberately misleading and deceptive,” said Karlyn Messinger, another Murphy supporter from Penn Valley, Pa., who filed a complaint with the FCC.

NRCC spokesman Ed Patru denied any illegal intent.

“All of our political calls are in compliance with the law,” Patru said.

Not so, said the Democrats.

“They are violating the regulations that were set up,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who said the DCCC employed one robocall this cycle and paid $500 for it.

“I think the real point here is that the Republicans are using a desperate campaign tactic that is misleading, at worst violating the law and at best is a page out of Karl Rove’s playbook,” Psaki said. “They clearly are attempting to mislead voters.”

Democrats argued that that’s the strategy.

“Because they are getting so many, they are only listening to the first part of the message,” said Amy Bonitatibus, a Murphy spokeswoman. “They’re hoping to turn off our base. … These are pretty much dirty tricks by the Republican Party.”

[AP via Boston Globe]

And according to Josh Marshall, there’s even more dirty tricks involved in these calls: they are carefully designed to annoy.

What we’re seeing is an apparent coordinated effort from the NRCC — the House GOP committee — to place calls that appear to be from the local Democratic candidate and then automatically call the same number back as many as seven or eight times each time the caller hang-ups. If the caller listens to the whole message it goes on to bash the Democratic candidate. But if the caller hangs up prematurely, the computer calls right back. Hang-ups are the achilles heal of robo-calls. So this seems to be an attempt to cover for that weakness by making those who hang up think the Democratic candidate is basically harassing them with phone calls. The GOP wins either way.

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