"Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel 05/01/2007
Cropping up every year or two, they're universally despised. More than the stream of partisan nastiness that spews from the television screen. More than the campaign junk that fills mailboxes.
They are the hated robo-calls, the recorded voices at the other end of the line at the height of political campaigns. Sometimes containing an endorsement of a favored candidate, often hurling slurs at an opponent, the calls are disliked by seemingly everyone, except, of course, politicians who use them.
"Some people swear at them. There are other people who swear by them," said state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville.
King, state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, and state Rep. Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, are pushing legislation that would ban political robo-calls from going to anyone who is on the do-not-call list, the registry designed to protect people from telemarketers.
Lots of people dislike unsolicited calls; Florida's do-not-call list contains 8.1 million subscribers.
Telemarketers and others subject to the rules could face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.
Senate and House committees have approved robo-call legislation, but King said there might not be enough time to pass the final hurdles by Friday's scheduled adjournment. Gov. Charlie Crist's press secretary, Erin Isaac, said she couldn't comment on the specifics of the proposal because it's subject to change as it moves through the Legislature.
Six states prohibit political robo-calls. Florida law exempts politicians from respecting the do-not-call list. The legislation would force politicians to honor it or face the same penalties as telemarketers and other businesses. Rhoda Berman, a voter who lives west of Delray Beach, said the calls were a plague during last year's election season.
"It was insane," she said. "These calls were coming in at the worst times, during dinner and after dinner. It made the whole election so distasteful."
A nationwide survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 64 percent of registered voters reported receiving such calls in the final two months of the 2006 election season. Berman said she sometimes got four a day.
Berman was luckier, in a sense, than Robert Pelletier, of Hollywood. On vacation in Massachusetts for three weeks during the 2006 election season, Pelletier got robo-calls on his cell phone, including two from a Broward County commissioner on behalf of a candidate.
The worst part: Pelletier paid to receive the calls because of the cell-phone roaming charges.
"Boy, was I ticked," he said. "Political calls should be banned from the telephone."
He received more robo-calls this spring. They were no less irritating because they were about the Miramar city election, and Pelletier doesn't live there.
If the legislation doesn't become law this year, King said, he will try again during the 2008 session, in time to spare people from the next election season onslaught.
If not, brace for more calls. Donna Brosemer, of the consulting firm Politically Correct, in Palm Beach Gardens, said many candidates and consultants use robo-calls because they need to reach voters.
"Our options are so few. Television costs a fortune. Fewer and fewer people read newspapers. People are bombarded with direct mail," she said.
Brosemer said she rarely uses robo-calls for her candidates: "I hate [receiving] them, so I assume I'm not the only one out there who does."
Anthony Man can be reached at email@example.com
DISCUSSING THE CALLS
State Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, discusses the much-hated political robo-calls in an audio report at Sun-Sentinel.com/florida "