We've been tracking Common Sense Issues, the Mike Huckabee-supporting push polling group, closely (click here to see our past coverage). They've already made millions of calls and last night, they unleashed another onslaught on South Carolina, where they'll call a million homes over three days. All told, that means they've made approximately 6 million calls so far this election (see update below).
The group's executive director told me that they're "well within the law." But one thing that hasn't been clear is whether any of the states will call the group's bluff and prosecute them.*
South Carolina has a law against automated phone calls. And the state's attorney general, Henry McMaster, is co-chair of John McCain's state campaign. In a phone interview today, he told me that his office was still gathering information about the calls, but that "I'd advise anybody making automated calls that they should get some legal advice."
The state's law carries a potential civil penalty of $1000 per call, McMaster said, meaning that the state could hypothetically seek a $1 billion penalty (see update below). "It takes much less than that to put a hurting on most folks," he added.
McMaster is a member of the McCain's so-called "Truth Squad," an effort by the campaign to counter negative attacks, and the campaign released a statement from him earlier today responding to the "several misleading claims" about McCain in Common Sense Issues' push polls. When I asked him whether it might be a conflict of interest for him to pursue a case against a group backing a rival candidate, he said no: "It doesnât make any difference who weâre supporting or not supporting. In my state, everybody knows everybody. Itâs a small place. You just have to be ethical and do your job and overlook those kind of things."
*Note: The firm that's been doing the calls on Common Sense Issues' behalf is ccAdvertising (also known as FreeEats.com). And their legal record isn't encouraging. That company has already lost twice in federal court. In 2004, they challenged North Dakota's do-not-call law and lost (they'd made approximately 235,000 calls polling a range of GOP hot-button issues). The company was fined $20,000. And in 2006, they challenged Indiana's do-not-call law and lost (the group made 400,000 calls attacking Rep. Byron Hill (D-IN)).
Thursday Update: It's been hard to get a handle on just how many calls the group has been making, but the group's executive director gave me an estimate of approximately 5 million this morning. That's based on his count of 850,000 in Iowa, 400,000 in New Hampshire, 3 million in Michigan, approximately 50,000 in Florida, over 1 million in South Carolina and approximately 500,000 in Nevada. This post originally gave an estimate of 7 million based on earlier numbers provided by Davis.
The post originally estimated a maximum penalty of $2 billion based on there being roughly 2 million calls in the state. But Davis would only characterize it as "over 1 million."