City Asks Political Robo Calls Law

December 6, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids City Commission is calling on the governor and state legislators for an immediate ban of the use of automated or “robo” calls that do not disclose the messenger behind the message.

The resolution would require that automated calls made during an election clearly identify who’s paying to deliver the message.

According to the resolution approved by commissioners Tuesday, robo calls made during the just passed election lacked attribution and the “lack of political accountability” confused voters.

Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act mandates that print and electronic political ads either for or against a candidate or issue clearly display attribution.

First Ward commissioner James Jendrasiak, who proposed the resolution, said during the 2002 election he received as many as 14 robo calls in a single day.

“It’s not only the amount but the content of these calls and the outright lies that were, I guess, portrayed in the messages that were left with no disclosure of who they were from and how they were generated,” Jendrasiak said.

He said he was able to trace one of the calls to a business in California, adding that it took “quite a bit of doing” to get the company to stop calling his home.

The negative nature of the calls only contributes to voter apathy at a time when voter turnout for local elections is already low, he noted.

“It’s disgusting that these types of tactics are being used in our political process. Since the election I’ve heard from so many people that are just completely turned off by the electoral process and claim that they will never vote again.”

Jendrasiak said such tactics have to be stopped and the first step is for local officials to seek legislative support toward that end.

Commissioner Rick Tormala of the city’s second ward said he felt some of the people behind the calls want to suppress the vote by riling voters in certain areas so they don’t turn out at the polls.

“It’s very cowardly and sleazy some of the disgusting things that have been said in these robo calls with no way to attribute it,” Tormala said. “I think it’s important that we communicate with the legislature and to the governor-elect that this disgusting type of anti-democracy needs to be stopped.”           

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