Published October 29 2012
Political text messages continue to irk North Dakota cellphone usersFARGO – Text messages targeting U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp continued to pop up on North Dakotans’ cellphones over the weekend, and for those annoyed by the unsolicited messages, the federal government may be their only hope for an end to the tactic.
The text messages are legal under North Dakota law, said Parrell Grossman, director of the state attorney general’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division.
“I think the attorney general certainly understands any frustration with text messages, but again, the North Dakota law would be controlling,” he said Monday.
The text message states, “Y r top anti-fracking lawyers funneling money to Heitkamps campaign?” and then tells the reader to find out why by calling a toll-free number.
Those who call will hear an anti-Heitkamp ad followed by a disclosure that the ad was paid for by Life and Marriage PAC, a political action committee.
North Dakota law prohibits political “robo calls” made by automated dialing devices, with a potential fine of $7,000 per call. But calls made by a live operator on behalf of a political party, candidate or other political group are legal, and political text messages fall under that section of the law, Grossman said.
Even if the text messages are sent by an automated device, such as an Internet-to-phone service that scatters messages to multiple numbers, state law doesn’t specifically ban that mode of delivery as it does with robo calls.
Being on the do-not-call list doesn’t apply because, again, live political calls are not considered telephone solicitation, he said.
However, the text messages may be illegal under federal law, and Grossman said residents “certainly can file complaints” with the Federal Communications Commission.
That was the route taken last week by a Bismarck resident who received one of Life and Marriage PAC’s text messages.
William Woodworth claims the text message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits making any call, without the prior express consent of the called party, to a cellphone or “any service for which the called party is charged for the call.”
“Many of these voters do not have a text message plan and were billed for receiving this unsolicited text message,” Woodworth’s complaint stated.
Woodworth said Monday he mailed the letter to the FCC on Friday and hadn’t received a response. Multiple messages left for the FCC on Monday were not returned.
A phone number for Alexandria, Va.-based Life and Marriage PAC could not be found. A message sent to an email address on the group’s website was returned as undeliverable.
Meanwhile, another super PAC, Crossroads GPS, has agreed to put a disclaimer at the start of its political phone messages to inform recipients that the call is being made by a live operator, Grossman said.
The move comes after state Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, complained to the attorney general’s office last week that she had received a robo call from Crossroads GPS.
Grossman said his office tracked the Crossroads calls to St. Paul-based Connection Strategy LLC. The group denied making any automated calls, saying its callers often read their scripts in a mechanical way.
Grossman said his office received word Monday through Connection Strategy that Crossroads had agreed to the disclaimer.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528