Wyoming residents hung up on robocalls

2011-03-23T23:45:00Z 2011-03-24T07:06:00Z Wyoming residents hung up on robocallsBy JEREMY PELZER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
March 23, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A group fighting the new federal health care law has been blanketing Wyoming during the past week with automated phone calls that some say could be illegal under state law.

For several days, Republicans and Democrats around the state have complained of receiving as many as three "robocalls" in an hour from Repeal HealthCare Act, a nonprofit group run by the conservative political action committee Restore America's Voice.

In the calls, former Arkansas governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee denounces the Affordable Care Act, which passed Congress a year ago Wednesday. Huckabee asks callers to sign a petition opposing the law or donate money, according to Wyoming residents who have received the calls.

The Wyoming secretary of state's elections office, as well as staffers from the Wyoming Democratic and Republican parties, said they've received several complaints about the calls since Friday.

Jacob Linn, a Thermopolis resident who chairs the Hot Springs County Democratic Party, said he received two Huckabee robocalls Friday followed by three within an hour Monday.

"They're annoying, to say the least," Linn said. "Phone's ringing, and you've got to stop and go answer it, and you find out it's a robocall."

Under Wyoming law, it's illegal to make automated phone calls either to offer information in "soliciting sales or purchases" or for "promoting or any other use related to a political campaign."

The elections office and the Wyoming attorney general's office have said people who have problems with the calls should contact their local district or county attorney. The elections office referred comment on the legality of the robocalls to Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips, who didn't return a phone call Wednesday.

Repeal Healthcare Act Chairman Ken Hoagland said the calls are legal because they aren't political — they're issue advocacy calls made by a nonprofit group.

"We've met with the experts and the lawyers and they say, 'Yes, you're on solid ground,'" Hoagland said.

Repeal Healthcare Act has already collected more than 800,000 petition signatures in favor of scrapping the health care law, Hoagland said, and is aiming to collect a total of 5 million to present to Congress.

The group has also been airing television ads nationally in support of legislation to repeal the health care law. That repeal legislation passed the Republican-controlled House in January but faces a tough battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"We are trying to raise enough citizen pressure that we see this law repealed in the Senate — something that most pundits in Washington believe is impossible," Hoagland said. "It takes some pushing, it takes some democracy."

Wyoming Democratic Party spokeswoman Bri Jones denounced the robocalls, saying they amounted to campaign ads by Huckabee in advance of a possible presidential run next year.

"Maybe it is quasi-legal, but I don't think it's following the spirit of the law," Jones said.

Evan Ridley, executive director of the Wyoming Republican Party, said after hearing several complaints from Republicans about the robocalls, he emailed Huckabee's political action committee to question the legality of the calls and to say that they weren't being well-received in Wyoming.

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