Relief may be on the way for Arizona voters pestered each and every election with hundreds of robocalls from candidates and their supporters.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, has introduced legislation to create a political “do not call” list available to all Arizonans. Those who don’t want the automated spiels could sign up to opt out.
Politicians who ignore the list could end up being hauled into court by the Attorney General’s Office.
But under SB 1196, the most a court could do is issue an injunction – one he conceded a politician could ignore without fear of additional penalty. The measure contains no financial penalties for violators.
Kavanagh said, though, he believes most politicians and the consultants whom they hire will honor the law if for no other reason than they really don’t want to tick off voters.
“The last thing they want to do is send their candidate’s robocall to somebody who hates them,” he said. “Then that person votes against their candidate.”
The legislation is designed to supplement the National Do Not Call Registry which applies to any program to sell goods or services through interstate phone calls. But it does not limit calls by political organizations, charities or pollsters.
And the federal law does not cover what happens within any state’s borders.
Kavanagh’s legislation plugs that loophole, applying it to calls designed to influence an election – but only to the extent that the calls included a prerecorded or artificial voice. Candidates would remain free to dial up voters live, as would those working phone banks.
“We don’t get complaints about live calls,” he said. “It’s just the robocalls that annoy people.”
Kavanagh does know something about robocalls. He has used them in his legislative campaigns, even getting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, also a Fountain Hills resident, to tape messages for him.
“They do appear to work,” Kavanagh said, especially early in the campaign.
“But once you get to the end of the campaign and people have been bombarded by these, they become hostile.”
Right now, Kavanagh said, the calls his campaign makes go out to all voters as there is no do-not-call list – and no way to tell who resents them.
“I certainly would want to get people who hate them off the list,” he said. “I don’t want to lose votes.”
That still leaves the question of whether his legislation needs teeth.
“It’s very difficult to figure what a fine should be,” Kavanagh said.
“If you do it on a per-call-made basis, it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars if it was a statewide robocall, versus $50 if it was some local precinct committeeman trying to get elected,” he explained. But that wasn’t the only reason for his decision not to include a financial penalty for violators.
“If you put it in, that may cause the bill to fail because there would be a lot of lobbying against it,” Kavanagh said.
Tim Sifert, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, said his organization would not comment on Kavanagh’s proposal, at least not yet. But he acknowledged the move would affect what the state GOP does.
“As a party, we use every communications technology available to us in order to turn out the voters and encourage support for our candidates,” Sifert said.
Barbara Lubin, Sifert’s Democrat counterpart, also was noncommittal, saying her organization was still evaluating the measure. But Lubin said that whatever restrictions are enacted must be fair.
“Such measures must be very carefully written if the intent of the law is to apply equally to all the diverse organizations and individuals that are attempting to influence elections,” she said.
Kavanagh acknowledged his proposal has a huge loophole: It would not apply to the dozens of out-of-state special interest groups that already have shown they seek to influence Arizona elections. Kavanagh said, though, there’s little he can do about it, any more than the state has been able to force those out-of-state groups to disclose their donors.
The legislation has not yet been set for a hearing.