In increasingly tight races around the country, voters are receiving telephone "push poll" calls, a classic dirty trick designed to suppress turnout on election day. One calling firm in particular, with White House ties and an impressive ability to fire off millions of automated calls per day, is benefiting from the strategy.
Gabriel Joseph III, president of the robo calling company FreeEats.com, may be the king of the push poll, in which real-sounding questions with ludicrous premises are asked to plant negative ideas in voters' minds. His company, which is better known under its business alias ccAdvertising, has impressive Republican ties: According to a recent piece
in Mother Jones
, the group has, on at least one occasion, drawn on its White House ties to get business. And its founder, Donald Hodel, is a veteran of the Reagan administration and a former president of Focus on the Family.
As might be expected of an outfit that profits off of convincing people not to vote, ccAdvertising plays rough. Mother Jones
reveals that Joseph once boasted of his firm's ability to "deliver a voter suppression message" to unfriendly voters. And as much as Joseph enjoys talking about the reach of his company's technology, he's not above threatening reporters: "If someone writes something that I don't like, I can make their lifeâI can make them understand a few things if I choose."
How would you know if you received one of the millions of calls ccAdvertising has made on behalf of clients, all Republican, in the past few months? A robo voice might have asked you, "Do you believe that foreign terrorists should have the same legal rights as American citizens?" or told you
that your local Democrat "voted to allow the sale of a broad range of violent and sexually explicit materials to minors."
Not only has the Virginia-based company been making millions of calls on behalf of the Economic Freedom Fund
, the GOP attack group funded by the money man behind the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, but the firm has also worked for Common Sense Ohio
, a conservative nonprofit group active in the closest Senate races.
These groups go to ccAdvertising for one reason: the company is effective. It provides tremendous but targeted reach, largely under the radar -- and arguably without scruple. You can hear recordings of ccAdvertising's work this election here
(from Indiana's 9th, funded by the EFF - a call a polling expert called
"egregious") and here
(from Tennessee, funded by Common Sense Ohio).
Joseph boasted to Mother Jones that "he can handle 3.5 million calls per day, each one costing less than 15 cents." By comparison, approximately 120 million people voted in the 2004 election. In Indiana, where ccAdvertising flooded the 9th District with robo calls (only to be stopped by a state law that prohibits automated calls), the company admitted in court that it maintains a database of 1.7 million Indiana phone numbers, and that its calling system may dial each number as many as three times. (ccAdvertising lost their challenge of the state's law and has recently appealed.)
As hard as ccAdvertising works to smother its targeted voters with calls, it also works to cloak its identity. So if you get a call from ccAdvertising, you won't know it's them. Although the calls tend to disclose through which organization the call was ordered, the name on a recipient's caller ID is generic-sounding, like "Election Research" or, as in the case of the recent calls to Maryland and Tennessee, "P RSRCH 2006." The company maintains a stable of business aliases like those to stay anonymous. It even went so far as to make calls in a couple states under another business' name.
Joseph is unapologetic about his product. "There's no more effective free speech tool than what we do," Joseph told Mother Jones. "That's why people complain. Because we're effective. If it wasn't effective, nobody would say anything."