Political Robocalls 101
Robocalls--automated phone calls delivered by computer systems--have been in the news lately as a part of the presidential primary campaigns. They provide a cheap way to reach thousands, or millions, of voters instantly. Pollsters are increasingly using robocalls as an inexpensive way to ask questions and record their answers. The national pollster Rasmussen uses robocall polls for its public opinion polls and some vendors offer custom polls to campaigns for under $1000. If you have a landline and vote, you’ve likely received one.
One of the many allegations being thrown out in the recent news story is that some or all of the calls are illegal. Many in politics know that political calls are exempt from the federal Do Not Call Registry. 16 C.F.R. § 310.2. But this leads to a false confidence and an often incorrect assumption that the calls are not subject to any regulation.
Under federal regulations, however, all automated calls must include a disclaimer indicating who made the call and a phone number. 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(b). Automated calls cannot knowingly be directed at cell phones. 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(a)(iii). State laws also impose a variety of restrictions on robocalls.
State laws might limit calls on Sundays or holidays, impose time of day restrictions, require special disclaimers, or outright ban calls. While some of these laws are relatively new, many are the product of legislation twenty years ago that targeted pre-computer age autodialers. More than half of states regulate non-commercial (e.g. political) automated calls. These state laws regulate the phone call, not the candidate, so even federal campaign committees are subject to these sometimes-conflicting rules. Some states, such asIndiana,Montana, andWyoming, completely ban robocalls.