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Payback time on deceptive robocalls: Senate Democrat leaders on Wednesday call for criminal penalties. “I don’t care who it is, they should go to jail for 10 years."--Sen. Chuck Schumer

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Two Sweet columns--from the Sun-Times and The Hill--on the Democratic leadership plan to try to send to the slammer anyone caught authorizing dirty trick election time robo-calls.


With their new power, Democratic leaders want to craft a constitutional way to stop voters from being flooded with robo-calls peddling deceptive information. They are floating the notion that authorizing calls with fraudulent content should be made into a crime.

Dems to put Congress to work
(http://www.suntimes.com/news/sweet/137928,CST-EDT-sweet16.article)

November 16, 2006

BY LYNN SWEET Sun-Times Columnist
This for sure. The newly empowered Democratic leaders, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will put an end to the congressional mini-workweek.

A hallmark of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress, packing up after this lame-duck session, is that its leaders did not require them to hang around Washington much.

As of Wednesday, the House this year has met only 96 times -- and 23 of those days involved votes that did not happen until after 5:30 p.m. As a practical matter, many House members fly in late Tuesday and escape Thursday afternoon. The Senate was only a little better, scheduling votes on only 129 days. According to a study by Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation, the last time Congress spent so little time in Washington was at the end of World War II.

It's kind of a joke that lawmakers have to drag themselves to Washington between vacations, sometimes called district work periods. I know there is more to being a lawmaker than just showing up at the Capitol. There are many district chores. There is legitimate job-related travel. It's up to the individual member to make of the job what he or she wants. For lawmakers in safe districts or safe states, it's a part-time gig.

"We're going to work long hours," Reid declared Wednesday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, introducing his leadership team to reporters. That's Reid and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the income majority whip/assistant majority leader; Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, conference secretary, and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, in the newly created slot of vice chair of the conference, a reward for running the Senate Democratic political operation. "We're going to work more than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," Reid said.

Pelosi has been saying for months that she wants to increase the amount of time House members are in Washington. Evidence of that commitment will be clear when the previously light January will become weeks of workdays.

In the first 100 legislative hours, Pelosi wants to pass bills to raise the minimum wage; implement the recommendations of the 9-11 commission; toughen ethics and disclosure rules; cut interest rates for student loans, and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for seniors. Senate Democrats are keyed on all of the above and are "bound and determined" to change course in Iraq.

Durbin and Reid met Friday with President Bush in the White House. Durbin revealed he was "troubled" because it did not seem to him that Bush was "preparing for change."

As whip, Durbin's job is to keep the Democrats together. They are looking for issues that unite them and will allow for Republican alliances because the rules of the Senate give the minority enormous control.

Senate Democrats, unlike their GOP counterparts, will not be looking to rally their base voters on largely symbolic matters -- the God, guns and gay issues to which departing Senate Majority Leader William Frist devoted floor time.

Issues to avoid, Durbin said, are "the hot-button bumper-sticker" debates.

With their new power, Democratic leaders want to craft a constitutional way to stop voters from being flooded with robo-calls peddling deceptive information. They are floating the notion that authorizing calls with fraudulent content should be a crime. "These robo-calls, somehow, constitutionally, we are going to have to find some way to stop this," Reid said.

Schumer said he and Rep. Rahm Emanuel -- the boss of the House Democratic campaign committee, who is expected to be elected to a leadership spot today -- made a list of what they consider abusive campaign practices. In some cases, the volume of calls that went out to targeted likely Democratic voters was so heavy as to constitute harassment.

In other examples, the calls peddled disinformation -- whether about a candidate or the location of a polling place. Criticizing the robo-call dirty tricks, Schumer was blunt. "It's despicable" and the perps "should go to jail for 10 years."

Schumer said he and Emanuel are looking at legislation applying criminal penalties to certain kinds of campaigning and creation of a separate unit at the Justice Department to prosecute.

Interesting notion. With the expanded workweek, lawmakers will have plenty of time to make the call on this one.

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THIS IS THE COLUMN I WROTE ABOUT THE DEM ASSAULT ON DECEPTIVE ROBO CALLS IN THE HILL
, "The Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress"
http://thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Comment/LynnSweet/111606.html


Robo-calls may get terminated
With their new power, Democratic leaders want to craft a constitutional way to stop voters from being flooded with robo-calls peddling deceptive information. They are floating the notion that authorizing calls with fraudulent content should be made into a crime.

And this news: The Democratic bosses of the House and Senate political operations-Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) are keeping a list of what they consider abusive campaign practices. Each has been rewarded for their mid-term victories with a seat at the leadership table in their respective chambers and they are in a position to put on the agenda transforming nasty election pranks into crimes.

There are several types of political automated calls. The celebrity voices — “Hi, this is Bill Clinton��? — may be annoying, but they are not at issue. The Democrats were outraged over election-eve mischief — flooding key, targeted voting groups with robo-calls.

In some cases the volume of calls was so heavy as to constitute harassment. In other examples, the calls peddled disinformation — whether about a candidate or the location of a polling place. The day before the election Democratic campaign workers in two Illinois House districts I visited were very worried because they were on the receiving end of GOP calls. They thought it could tilt the outcome in these close races.

“These robo-calls, somehow, constitutionally, we are going to have to find some way to stop this,��? said Senate Majority leader designate Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid and his leadership team headlined a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday morning.

Reid and Schumer, newly titled vice chair of the conference, are veterans of the high-calorie morning grilling. Making their debut were Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the incoming majority whip, aka assistant majority leader, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a new addition to the team, tapped as conference secretary.

Schumer, on the robo-call tactic, was blunt. “It’s despicable.��?

Anyone who, let’s say, authorizes a call that falsely claims a voting place is changed — “I don’t care who it is, they should go to jail for 10 years,��? said Schumer.

Schumer said he and Emanuel are looking at legislation applying criminal penalties to dirty campaign tricks and a separate unit at the Justice Department to prosecute.

These Democrats are aware of how fragile their majority is — and how 41 senators can derail anything they do. They know how well the cloture game can be played because they just spent years at it. Also interesting is that Schumer mentioned by name the Republican senators they want to woo for strategic alliances — Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas). I guess I did not expect him to show his hand.

Reid is soft-spoken, so much so, the breakfast host provided a microphone to amplify his whisper of a voice. Reid said he quelled talk that the Democrats wanted to impeach President Bush if they came into power with just two words: Dick Cheney.

Reid, the laconic tonic.

8 Comments

Great job, this will surely defeat the democrats in 2008, goin on a witch hunt!

If the Dems have sense enough to frame this issues as a pro-consumer, anti-harassment telephone issue it is a winner.

If they allow it to be framed as an election/campaign technique issue it's a loser.

So far they are playing it all wrong.

If some of the robocalls turn out to be democrats, are they going to jail, also? (LOL)

PS: About these deceptive robocalls that Schumer talks about, even if true, even these folks with bad information have 1st amendment rights. Where will it stop? I'd hate to think Ms. Sweet wrote a well-meaning article, but some of her information was false. Even though she meant well and didn't realize it wasn't completely factual. But since it has some false info does she go to jail for 10 years?

Now John , we all know Lynn does not pick sides and write favorable articles about one party over the other! Just ask her she'll tell you!

Where will it stop? Certainly not short of protecting citizens from attempted disenfranchisement of a voter's rights via intrusive misinformation campaigns. The FCC's Do Not Call Registry effectively limits corporate speech. Many would argue that protection of one's fundamental right to vote is vastly more important than protecting a consumer's right from undue influence. Pre-recorded messages based loosely, if at all, on truth certainly falls within the family of public policy interests that overcome first amendment protections.

Thank you Sen. Shumer, it was not only irritating running to the phone only to hear recorded misinformation, but indeed despicable to think that the repeated (over 12 for my household) calls could influence one's fundamental right to vote. Or worse, influence someone not to vote at all.

Ahh yes, the criminalization of your political opponents. Stalinism at it's finest.

This is what happens when petty power starved people get in office.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 17, 2006 12:18 PM.

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