The calls all seem to follow the same pattern. Voters are asked who they're supporting, and then depending on their answer, they're provided with a barrage of negative information about their chosen candidate (if it's not Mike Huckabee). Huckabee himself has feebly protested the calls, saying that they "violate the spirit" of his campaign and âI wish they would stop." Not suprisingly, Mike Hosenball of Newsweek reports that the major backers of the group are also supporters of Huckabee.
The calls have already gotten the group in trouble. Romney asked the Iowa attorney general to investigate the calls, and they've also come to the attention of the New Hampshire and South Carolina attorney generals. No one seems to be investigating the group yet, although the group is living dangerously in South Carolina, where not only is the Republican attorney general Henry McMaster co-chairman of John McCain's state campaign, but there's a law against automated phone calls. But the executive director of the group made it apparent that they'd already gamed this out:
Common Sense Issuesâ Executive Director Patrick Davis has said the calls originate outside the state, are legal under federal law and amount to constitutionally protected free speech. âItâs all factual,â he said.
The group even has a defense of the calls up at TrustHuckabee.com, which argues that because the calls are based on voice-recognition technology and tailor their negative information based on the voter's responses, they're a-ok:
The type of calls that Common Sense Issues, Inc. is making into Iowa and New Hampshire are personalized educational conversations enabled by artificial intelligence. While some have suggested that these personalized conversations are "push polls," they are not as each one is unique based on the individual. Push calls are designed to be a one-way communication. During a personalized educational call enabled by our voice recognition artificial intelligence technology a participant has a two-way dialogue.
They seem to be rather proud of this strategy and of the technology that allows them to make the calls. The calls are actually made by a company called ccAdvertising -- a favorite company for shadowy third-party groups in the 2006 elections. The company can make at least 3.5 million calls per day.
When disclosing its activity to the Federal Election Commission, Common Sense has labeled all of the disbursements to ccAdvertising as "GOTV," indicating that the calls serve the double purpose of distributing negative information about rival candidates and identifying Huckabee supporters to be rallied on election day.
*Note: Don't miss the group's recent ad against Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), where he's presented with a "Cuban propaganda award" from Fidel Castro: