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Columns

Politicians, please lose our number

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 14, 2007


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Hello. This is the disembodied voice of Joe Blow, candidate for Congress. I sure could use your vote next Tuesday ...

A lot of people in Florida pay money to get on federal and state do-not-call registries to avoid getting those annoying telemarketing calls during dinner.

But as every consumer knows, being on the list doesn't eliminate all those calls.

The law contains loopholes for calls by charities, newspapers, business-related calls and calls of a political nature.

That's why, even if you're on a do-not-call list, you can still get bombarded at election time by automated "robo-calls," with recorded voices telling you how to vote.

In the world of electioneering, robo-calls are an effective way to reach lots of voters in a hurry.

Too effective, maybe.

Labor unions and consumer, business and environmental groups all use the phone that way.

The Florida AFL-CIO made robo-calls in the fall in support of Sen. Jim King, a moderate Republican from Jacksonville who was challenged from the right.

King won re-election, but a lot of constituents were unhappy with all those automated calls, so he promised to file a bill to ban them.

"People in my district were just absolutely furious," King said. "They don't understand why, if I have a do-not-call edict, that it's okay for politicians to call me."

King's bill SB 322 was sent to the Senate Commerce Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, has not scheduled the bill for a discussion.

Diaz de la Portilla, a political consultant by trade, said any ban on campaign-related speech could violate the First Amendment.

"Every time we try to limit free speech, it's a bad idea," the Republican said. He added that he's open to "finding a balance" that's constitutional.

However, a legislative analysis showed a similar ban survived a court challenge in Indiana.

King said Diaz de la Portilla told him that he planned to use robo-calls in his next political campaign, and said to King: "Why would I want to render illegal that which I intend to do?"

Diaz de la Portilla said he has seen both sides of telephonic campaigning. "I've been attacked, and I've been supported," he said.

The House version (HB 33) by Rep. Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, is awaiting a floor vote.

Liberal-leaning labor unions, who feel targeted by the bill, could not stop it from passing a House council on a 10-5 vote last week. An amendment to exempt groups calling their own members - such as unions - was dropped from the bill, further angering organized labor.

Unions said the bill is blatantly unconstitutional because it prohibits them from communicating with their own members, who want guidance on political issues.

"We do in fact call our membership about who we have endorsed in a particular race," said the AFL-CIO's Rich Templin. "They expect to get them."

* * *

Speaking of intrusive phone calls, here's an idea. If you think the do-not-call lists should ban political calls, here are the key people to call to voice your opinion:

Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami: (850) 487-5109.

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami: (850) 488-1450.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified April 14, 2007, 07:08:31]


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