N.C. Attorney General Says WVWV Robocalls Illegal
A charity organization with ties to Hillary Clinton has come under criticism for running apparently illegal robo-calls in advance of next week's hotly contested Democratic primary in North Carolina. The group, Women's Voices Women Vote, says it's just trying to get single women registered to vote.
Last week, this automated robo-call went out in North Carolina.
"Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is fill it out, sign it, date and return the application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return your registration form when it arrives. Thank you."
But the deadline to register for the primary had already passed. And the call went to many registered voters -- people who already were expecting to vote in the presidential primary next Tuesday. The call and follow up mailings made many wonder whether they were registered for the primary or not.
This sounds like a classic example of voter suppression -- sowing confusion and driving down turn-out. And these calls seemed to be aimed at African American communities, places where Barack Obama is expected to win easily.
The group behind the calls is Women's Voices Women Vote. It's a 501-c-3 charity, and the robo-calls seem completely at odds with the group's usual, upbeat message.
Women's Voices Women Vote did not make anyone available for comment on this story, yesterday or today. [Tom note: The News Blog did manage to reach spokesman Sarah Johnson yesterday before WVWV stopped answering media inquiries.]
Reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows that there are some Obama backers among the Women's Voices leadership. But its leaders mostly have ties to Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
Founder Page Gardner worked in Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Board member John Podesta was President Clinton's chief of staff. Maggie Williams, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, used to be on the Women's Voices leadership team, and did consulting work for them.
"That's all established. We can't show that there's any formal or direct connection," says Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies, in Durham, North Carolina.
The institute got complaints about the robo-calls. Investigating those complaints led them to Women's Voices.
The Institute turned up other complaints about the group too -- in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio -- and 4 other states. The Virginia state police investigated robo-calls just before that state's primary.
"What we have here is at least five months of a deceptive tactic, illegal in many states, & each time this group is criticized for this activity, they apologize for the confusion," says Kromm.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina attorney general says the robo-calls are illegal. State law requires that automated phone calls identify the sponsoring group and give the recipient a way to reach them. The Lamont Williams call did neither.
Democracy North Carolina, a fair-elections group, is working with Women's Voices to pull the 276 thousand mailers out of the postal stream.
Just a week ago, Page Gardner wrote to the North Carolina elections board, letting them know about the calls and the mailing. She noted that Women's Voices would be raising the voter registration question just before the primary. She called it an "unfortunate coincidence" and said she hoped it wouldn't be confusing.
-- Peter Overby
If you've gotten a robo-call, or been contacted in other ways by an independent group like this, we want to hear about it. NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting are tracking independent groups in this election. You can tell us about robo-calls, push polls and other contacts by e-mailing SecretMoney@npr.org.
5:46 PM ET | 05- 1-2008 | permalink