From the Institute of Southern Studies:
"As we covered yesterday, N.C. residents have reported receiving peculiar automated calls from someone claiming to be "Lamont Williams." The caller says that a "voter registration packet" is coming in the mail, and the recipient can sign it and mail it back to be registered to vote. No other information is provided.
The call is deceptive because the deadline has already passed for mail-in registrations for North Carolina's May 6 primary. Also, many who have received the calls -- like Kevin Farmer in Durham, who made a tape of the call that is available here -- are already registered. The call's suggestion that they're not registered has caused widespread confusion and drawn hundreds of complaints, including many from African-American voters who received the calls.
The calls are also probably illegal. Farmer and others have told Facing South the calls use a blocked phone number and provided no contact information -- a violation of North Carolina rules regulating "robo-calls" (N.C. General Statute 163-104(b)(1)c). N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper further stated in a recent memo that the identifying information must be clear enough to allow the recipient to "complain or seek redress" -- something not included in the calls.
It is also a Class I felony in North Carolina "to misrepresent the law to the public through mass mailing or any other means of communication where the intent and the effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters from exercising their lawful right to vote."
The calls have been denounced by the N.C. State Board of Elections, as well as by voter advocacy groups including Democracy North Carolina, which called them "another in a long line of deceptive practices used in North Carolina and elsewhere that particularly target African-American voters."
Yesterday, I placed a call to the Virginia State Police, which had investigated similar suspicious robo-calls before that Virginia's primaries last February. Their investigation concluded that the source of the calls was Women's Voices Women Vote.
Facing South then contacted Women's Voices, and staffer Sarah Johnson confirmed they were doing similar robo-calls in North Carolina; they later admitted that they were the ones behind the deceptive "Lamont Williams" calls."
If you listen to the call, though, it really does make it sound as though you need to mail in their packet in order to vote. (“Hello, This is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return the voter registration form when it arrives. Thank you.”) It would have been easy to say something like: if you haven't already registered to vote... -- something that would make it clear that this is not, in fact, a further requirement. It would also be easy, and proper, for the caller to give not just his name, but his organizational affiliation, if only to make it clear that he has no official standing.
WVWV replies here: they say it's just an attempt to register voters that misfired. They have also apologized. However, this is neither the first time they've gotten in trouble for this sort of thing nor the first time they've said they will stop. In addition to the aforementioned problems in Virginia, the Institute for Southern Studies cites problems in Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio. As the ISS says:
"In each state, the Women's Voices campaigns have brought the same news and the same themes, again and again: Deceptive claims and misrepresentations of the law -- sometimes even breaking the law. Wildly inaccurate mailing lists, supposedly aimed at "unregistered single women," but in reality reaching many registered voters as well as families, deceased persons and pets. Tactics that confuse voters and potentially disenfranchise them.
For such a sophisticated and well-funded operation, which counts among its ranks some of the country's most seasoned political operatives, such missteps are peculiar, as is the surprise expressed by Women's Voices staff after each controversy.
In at least two states, the timing of Women's Voices' activities have raised alarm that they are attempting to influence the outcome of a primary. As we reported earlier, in Virginia, news reports surfaced the first week in February that prospective voters were receiving anonymous robo-calls telling voters that they were about to receive a voter registration packet in the mail.
The timing of the calls was astoundingly off: As the Virginia State Police confirm, the calls were made Feb. 5 and 6 -- about 10 days before the then-critical Virginia primary, but more than two weeks after the deadline for registering in the state had passed (Jan. 14). The Virginia State Board of Elections was deluged with calls by confused voters -- many who were already registered. When they heard the calls from Women's Voices, they feared that they really weren't."
There is speculation that this is somehow linked to the Clinton campaign. The ISS story has various links, some closer than others:
"[Page] Gardner [President of VWVW], for example, contributed $2,500 to Clinton's HILLPAC on May 4, 2006, and in March 2005 she donated a total of $4,200 to Clinton, according to The Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org. She has not contributed to the Obama campaign, according to the database.
Women's Voices Executive Director Joe Goode worked for Bill Clinton's election campaign in 1992 as a pollster; the group's website says he was intimately involved in "development and implementation of all polling and focus groups done for the presidential primary and general election campaigns" for Clinton.
Women's Voices board member John Podesta, former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, donated $2,300 to Hillary Clinton on April 19, 2007, according to OpenSecrets.org. Podesta also donated $1,000 to Barack Obama in July 2004, but that was well before Obama announced his candidacy for president."
Some of these links are more convincing than others (e.g., half the Democratic Party worked for Clinton in 1992.) I would have thought that the fact that John Podesta "served as Chief of Staff to President William J. Clinton from October 1998 until January 2001" would have been worth mentioning. In addition, Maggie Williams, Clinton's campaign manager, seems to have been on their board until quite recently (h/t el bandito at dKos.) [UPDATE: Williams does not seem to have been on the board while campaign manager. I should have made this clearer.]
I am reserving judgment on the Clinton angle until I know more. I only mention it because the story raises so many red flags. After all, we have a group staffed by very well connected Washington operatives that keeps making the same obvious mistakes over and over and over, despite having gotten in trouble for doing the exact same thing in the past; that sometimes makes them right before important primaries that Obama is projected to win; that is said to be targeting African-American neighborhoods, and using an African-American male voice, when it's supposedly targeting unmarried women.
Whatever is going on, though, it should stop.