INDIANAPOLIS – With the 2010 election season approaching, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller urges political parties and candidates to respect Hoosier’s desire for privacy by agreeing to avoid making prerecorded campaign phone calls to voters using auto-dialer technology.
Zoeller commended the chairmen of state political parties who today signed what he termed the “Treaty of 2010,” an informal agreement to make their reasonable best efforts to not support or encourage the use of auto-dialed “robo-calls” by this year’s election candidates at the federal or state levels.
“It’s not every day when leaders of political parties come together and shake hands on an agreement over the rules of fair play,” Zoeller said. “Since Indiana is likely to have very competitive races this year, locking in this agreement early might help to prevent bad decisions made during the heat of battle. It’s in the public’s interest for the parties to voluntarily pledge to refrain from robo-calls, and so the Treaty of 2010 signed today will be appreciated by Hoosiers.”
Not a legally-binding document, the agreement says the state party chairmen who signed do not encourage the use of robo-calls by candidates or affiliate committees for the duration of the 2010 elections. Although legal challenges to Indiana’s Auto-Dialer law are pending in two courts, they are not likely to be conclusively decided before this year’s elections are held. So the agreement notes that the political parties do not waive in any way their past, present or future legal positions on the constitutional rights of political free speech involved in robo-calls.
Signing the informal treaty on behalf of their parties are Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark and Indiana Libertarian Party Chairman Sam Goldstein.
“Since 2006, the Indiana Democratic Party has forgone the use of robo-calls and has encouraged our candidates to do the same. This agreement puts that policy in place with our Republican and Libertarian Party colleagues and it is a victory for the privacy of voters and the betterment of our democracy here in Indiana,” Parker said.
“Although the Libertarian Party of Indiana believes the current law to be a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we also believe robo-calls to be counterproductive to our efforts, and so will discourage LPIN candidates from using this technology during the 2010 election season,” Goldstein said.
“Our practice during the last several elections has been to follow Indiana law, so as a formal extension of that, I am happy to join Dan and Sam on the attorney general’s agreement,” Clark said.
Passed in 1988, Indiana’s Auto Dialer law restricts the use of robo-calls — prerecorded messages placed to thousands of phone customers through automated dialing technology. The state law prohibits robo-calls from businesses in most instances. It allows campaigns and political groups to make robo-calls to households only if a live operator first obtains the consumer’s permission, or if the consumer opts in to receiving such calls, typically through an email permission form.
In 2006, then-Attorney General Steve Carter filed lawsuits against two political organizations that had blasted out robo-calls for and against congressional candidates to consumers in Southern Indiana: American Family Voices (AFV) and Economic Freedom Fund (EFF). In 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court gave the attorney general the go-ahead to enforce the Auto-Dialer statute after AFV and EFF had brought legal challenges to the law.
One of the attorney general’s lawsuits was remanded back to the trial court in Harrison County, with Zoeller succeeding Carter as the plaintiff. The other is ongoing in Brown County. Rulings are not expected in time for this year’s elections. To avoid triggering potential Auto-Dialer violations and additional legal action, the voluntary agreement by political parties discourages campaigns from using robo-calls until the issue is ultimately decided by the courts.
“My office will continue to argue in court that campaign-related robo-calls without the consumer’s prior permission violate the law. But I respect the First Amendment rights of political parties and their sincere views on this question. So the willingness of the political parties to respect consumers’ telephone privacy during the long campaign is very considerate – and in keeping with Indiana’s long tradition of spirited but civil debate,” Zoeller said.
Source: Indiana Attorney General