Democrat robocalls prompt GOP outrage
Republicans are crying foul over a series of weekend phone calls by the West Virginia Democratic Party.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney's campaign said it filed an informal complaint Wednesday with federal telecommunications regulators.
The calls, made Sunday, accused Maloney and the national Republican Governors Association of throwing state Republican lawmakers "under the bus."
The RGA has released two ads attacking Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for votes on bills that Republicans also supported.
But Democrats' attempt to point out the Republican hypocrisy may have entangled the separate dispute, which the party suggested was a sideshow.
The calls do not indicate the party is responsible for the calls. Party executive director Derek Scarbro personally recorded the calls, but he does not identify himself.
That violates federal telecommunications law, Maloney's campaign said.
A recent Federal Communications Commission advisory on robocalls says such calls to landlines are legal but they must "state clearly" who is making the call and provide other information. The Democratic Party's calls gave no indication the party was responsible for the calls.
That left some mystery on Sunday as to who made the calls, which went to residents of several House districts across the state. Party officials immediately confirmed they were responsible for the calls after they were asked about them.
Democrat Chairman Larry Puccio said before it made the calls the party ran its plan by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat.
An email exchange between Scarbro and Tennant's elections manager, Dave Nichols, indicates Tennant's office gave the party an all clear.
"A requirement for disclaimers on phone banks was struck down by (U.S. District Court) Judge (Thomas) Johnston," Nichols told Scarbro last Friday afternoon. "We believe robocalls to be essentially the same as a phone bank. So we do not believe a disclaimer is required."
But on Wednesday it may have been the Democrats who ended up under the bus.
"We acted responsibly by contacting the chief elections officer for the State of West Virginia prior to making any calls," the party said mid-morning.
Four hours later, Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said the office is not in charge of FCC regulations.
"The Secretary of State's Office can only give interpretation of state law," Glance said.
The Republican Party also filed a complaint on Tuesday with the Secretary of State's Office arguing the Democrats violated state law. It did not mention FCC rules.
But it's not clear if the Democratic Party considered possible federal implications before the calls. Asked about the FCC guidance, the party pointed to two Republican Party robocalls from previous election cycles -- apparently from the 2011 gubernatorial special election. One was recorded by previous GOP Chairman Mike Stuart and the other by current Chairman Conrad Lucas.
Both of those GOP-backed robocalls identified the party as the origin of the call -- something the Democrats did not do on Sunday -- but neither GOP call included a return phone number, as the FCC also requires.
Maloney's campaign said Democrats are "breaking the law and viciously attacking" Maloney out of desperation.
"Earl Ray's cronies will do anything to keep Earl Ray in the Governor's Mansion where he can help give millions of dollars to his family and special deals to his lobbyist friends while our jobs disappear," Maloney campaign manager Seth Wimer said.
Scarbro said in a statement that the Democrats might file an FCC complaint against the Republicans for those two calls. In other words, the Democrats were preparing to file a complaint against Republicans for year-old Republican calls that did more to identify the party as the origin of the calls than the Democrats' own recent calls.
"We are preparing a FCC complaint and another round of calls to point out the hypocrisy of the Republican ads. The issue here is not the robocalls, but the fact that Mr. Maloney's out-of-state allies are attacking Governor Tomblin for bipartisan bills that a majority of Republican legislators voted for," the Democrats' statement said.
There are two new laws at issue.
One is a tax increase on coal operators that the Democrats, Republicans and the Coal Association supported. The money from the tax is meant to clean up mine sites.
The second law helps solve the state's multi-billion dollar obligations to retired public workers. Democrats and Republicans both supported it. The law, at one point, suggests state officials cut health care costs. The RGA claimed it rations health care like the national health care reform law. Neither the state nor the federal law calls for health care rationing.