I-Team: Stopping unwanted political calls

It's tough, but you can try to get off the list

TAMPA - In the last few weeks before the election, you may notice your phone ringing during dinnertime more often. Pre-recorded political calls are annoying to most people, but campaigns love to use them.

So, how do campaigns get your name and number? Is there any way to get off of a political call list? I-Team investigator Michael George took action to find out.

St. Petersburg resident Charles Bregger somehow found himself on the list recently. He says he frequently gets political calls.

"About three or four times a day," Bregger said.

It doesn't matter that he hangs up or doesn't answer.  The campaign calls don't stop.  He's not sure how he got on the list in the first place.

To get some answers, we asked political consultant Travis Horn and USF journalism instructor and former consultant Wayne Garcia. Both have used pre-recorded 'robocalls' in campaigns they've worked on.

"The people who end up on these lists are there because they've done the right thing. They have voted," Garcia said.

Campaigns like to target frequent voters who already agree with their candidate. The goal of the calls isn't usually to change someone's opinion. It's to remind them to vote on election day.

Campaigns most often get names and phone numbers because people are asked to include them when they register to vote.

"Counties collect this information when folks file for voter applications, and it's public information. So it's difficult for folks to get off once they're on a calling list," Horn said.

One of the few ways to get off of a political call list is to re-register to vote and leave out your phone number. You can also call the campaign and ask to be removed, but that doesn't always work, because the campaigns don't often have a process set up to remove people from a list.

Campaigns have many ways to get your phone number. Some even pay companies to provide them with call lists, and campaigns share those lists with other candidates.

Politicians use robocalls because they're cheap and they're easy. They don't require a large number of volunteers or time. Thousands of calls can be made at once for very little money.

I-Team investigator Michael George purchased his own robocalls online using a list of phone numbers and just $10. The entire process was done online, within a few minutes. The calls cost only 7 cents each. At that rate, a campaign could spend just $1,000 dollars and call more than 14,000 people.

Many people who are fed up with these calls sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. But that won't work with political calls.

"The politicians very smartly wrote themselves out of the legislation," Horn said.

The Do Not Call list may stop telemarketing callers, but political calls are specifically exempted. California and Indiana have both passed their own laws to ban robocalls, but Florida has not.

We decided to make our own unsolicited calls…to local lawmakers. We called every state senator and representative in our area and asked them if they would support a ban on robocalls. Out of 38 we called, only 4 responded that they would support some restrictions on political robocalls.

So while the calls may be annoying, they're not going anywhere anytime soon.

"They're not going to regulate them, because it's not in their best interest," Garcia said.

The FCC warned campaigns this month it is illegal for them to make unsolicited pre-recorded calls to cell phones, and they could face fines. But it's a law that has not been enforced yet, and campaigns often can't tell whether they are calling a landline or cell phone.

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