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Indianapolis Star reports that the Indiana Republican party has cut ties to one of the firms responsible for harrassing GOP-sponsored robocalls. The state GOP fired Conquest Communications not because the firm's calls were necessarily harrassing, but because they were automated -- a violation of Indiana state law:

State GOP spokesman Robert Vane said Monday that Virginia-based Conquest Communications Group used recorded messages in calls for Brizzi and several candidates around Indiana.

“That is not what we contracted for,” Vane said, so the party fired Conquest and is refusing to pay the company. Vane declined to say how much the party still owes.

The Republicans intended for all campaign calls to be conducted “100 percent live,” Vane said, but instead Conquest used a live introduction followed by a recording.

Under Indiana law, a recorded message can be delivered over the phone only if it is first introduced by a person who seeks and gets permission to play it.

Earlier today, Paul connected harrassing "false-flag" robo calls in a number of congressional districts to the National Republican Congressional Committee, via the firm they appear to have paid to carry out the calls. That firm, Conquest Communications Group, was responsible for NRCC-backed calls in 20 House races.

Now, Paul has found a second firm calling voters in another 10 House districts on behalf of the NRCC. Some of those calls have been similar to the harrassing "false-flag" robocalls we've been covering all day.

"I know these guys," White House political guru Karl Rove boasts on the Web site of Feather, Larson & Syndhorst DCI, which has been making robocalls to voters on behalf of the NRCC -- many of them confirmed to be harrassing. "They work as hard to win your races as you do."

Indeed, the firm is said to enjoy close ties to Rove and the Bush White House. They've been in the annoying phone call business for a long time, as Josh will attest. This time around, they have made harrassing phone calls to defeat Democrats Harry Mitchell (in AZ-05), Eric Massa (in NY-29) and Francine Busby (in CA-50).

"They start out sounding like they're from Francine Busby -- most people get so annoyed they don't listen to the end. . . some people have been called 6, 7, 8 or 9 times," said a staffer at Busby's campaign.

"We've been getting reports [about harrassing calls] from voters for better than a week," Massa's spokesman, Mike Williams, told Paul today. "We're not sure where they're coming from," said Mitchell's flack, Seth Scott.

In addition to calls against those candidates, Feather Larson was contracted by the NRCC to deploy robo calls against the following Democratic House campaigns:

Tom Hayhurst (IN-03) Jason Altmire (PA-04) Nick Lampson (TX-22) Bruce Braley (IA-01) Patricia Madrid (NM-01) Angie Paccione (CO-04) Joe Courtney (CT-02)

Has anyone experienced harrassing phone calls in those districts? Let us know.

Paul reported that Conquest Communicatons, a GOP firm specializing in outbound calling for campaigns, picked up a massive chunk of work from the NRCC, to make calls in 20 House races on the eve of the election.

A few minutes later, we got an email from a guy, let's call him "Jim," who claimed to have worked as a phone bank worker at Conquest in 2001 and 2002. "They specialize in push polls," he wrote. "Nasty push polls. . . . The general office atmosphere is 'anything goes.'"

Jim didn't want his real name used ("I was fairly friendly with management, I feel sort of bad throwing them under the bus"), but he agreed to speak with me briefly by telephone.

"I did calls for them as a job for a couple summers," Jim recalled, noting that the pay was "decent" for a college kid. Since Jim left, the firm appears to have shifted away from using employees to make calls, favoring instead computer dialers and recorded messages. But the types of calls may not have changed much. "All they did was push polls, no legitimate polling," Jim said of his time there. He remembered that a number of calls he worked on "were kind of sketchy" and involved gay marriage.

There were about 50 people making calls at any one time, mostly "crazy people and college kids" without much direction. "It was pretty 'anything goes,'" Jim said. The managers told callers "to tell people you're calling from anywhere you want to."

As an example of how lax the workplace was, Jim -- a Democrat -- explained how he'd handle liberals who became irate when hearing Jim follow his negative script. "I'd read a message and a caller might get angry, so I'd say, 'well listen, I'm a Democrat, so let's just forget it.'"

A high point, he said, was being able to use fake accents when calling strangers. Jim had perfected a deep, Elvis-like drawl, which made his calls to Tennessee voters particularly successful, he said. "I had a high response rate" there, recalled Jim.

After his second summer, Jim said, he didn't return to the company. "Doing this stuff for the Republicans was, it gets distasteful after a while," he said. "Some of the scripts were pretty ridiculous."

Irony of ironies.

Since we posted this morning on Conquest Communications, the company that's been conducting hundreds of thousands of often harrassing calls on behalf of the National Republican Congressional Committee, they've taken down their "Contact Us" and "About" pages.

The pages included the company's phone number and bios of the company's executives. Maybe they were getting too many phone calls?

The woman who answered the phone couldn't tell me why the pages were down, only offering, “maybe we’re getting a lot of traffic." When I asked if I could speak to someone who might know why, I was put through to the voicemail of one of the partners. That call, along with an earlier one to the company, has yet to be returned.

The company works exclusively with Republican clients, of which there is a long, long list. One of the founding partners, David Johnson, is a veteran operative of the NRCC and the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Update: For those of you who've sent us the google cached version of the pages, thanks. We have it.

Later Update: Actually, since posting this morning, Conquest seems to have stripped their website down to everything but its index page.

The biggest right-wing group backing "push poll" calls says it's targeting calls to "core supporters" on Election Day.

But there's reason to believe that the group might also use their mighty calling operation for voter suppression efforts, as well.

This morning, The New York Times checked in on Common Sense Ohio, the conservative nonprofit that's been polling millions of voters in the closest Senate races with questions that lead hard to the right ("do you support medical research experiments on unborn babies?").

In it, Gabriel Joseph, the proprietor of ccAdvertising, the calling firm hired to make these nasty calls, admits that "his company had tried to reach every home in Maryland." As the Times points out, there are over two million households in Maryland. The group has also been inundating voters in Montana, Tennessee, Missouri, and Ohio with its poll -- targeting the closest Senate races.

Voters in those states can expect to just keep getting similar calls through tomorrow. Zeke Swift, the Executive Director of Common Sense, told the Times that the polls "had identified core supporters, who will receive a reminder call on Election Day."

ccAdvertising has done more than just help Common Sense identify "core supporters," of course -- they also have a good idea of unfriendly voters, information that ccAdvertising has not hesitated to use in the past, as detailed last month by Mother Jones:

an investigation of a state GOP official by Alaska's attorney general in 2003 revealed another glimpse of [ccAdvertising's] playbook. "If they support our candidate, the candidate comes on with a 20-second GOTV thanking them for their vote and asking them to get their friends and family to vote as well," Joseph wrote in an email to Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "If they support the opponent, we deliver a voter suppression message."

Update: Not discussed in the Times piece is the fact that Common Sense has not limited their activity to push polls. Mr. Swift told me last week that they've also bought radio spots in Maryland, Montana and Ohio, and sent mailers in Maryland, Montana and Tennessee. You can see their Tennessee mailer here; "Bob Corker and Harold Ford are separated by more than their school colors . . ." We're eager to see other examples of their work.

To all of you who've complained about spending your days fielding calls from robot voices attacking Democrats, it's time to get some perspective. These robot dialers are saving democracy -- or didn't you know that?

Courtesy of yesterday's Washington Post, we have a reminder from a political consultant (who happens to be a Democrat) of "the larger principles" behind the robo call. "Robo-dials have been known to dramatically increase voter turnout," he reminds us [though they're also useful for voter suppression], continuing...

Instead of hanging up on the call, realize that this is American democracy in action and that there is nothing wrong with an automated call requesting that you participate. After all, many sacrifices have been made over the course of American history to preserve our right to vote. A phone call or two reminding us to exercise that right is certainly something we can all live with.

I suppose we can even live with a phone call or two or six or seven. After all, Americans have died for your right to be robo called.

"I want a system that is biased in favor of declassification. I want some assurance that they aren't just picking the stuff that's garbage and releasing that. If we're only declassifying maps of Baghdad, I'm not going to be happy."

- Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), House intelligence committee chairman, last March. Hoekstra was frustrated that spy chief John Negroponte was resisting his call to release seized Iraqi documents that Hoekstra was convinced would justify the war in Iraq.

"It looks like they screwed up."

- Hoekstra chiding senior intelligence officials (including Negroponte) yesterday. It was revealed last week that sensitive nuclear secrets were among a batch of Iraqi documents released as part of Hoekstra's favorite declassification program. The documents, which predate the 1991 Persian Gulf War, "show that the Iraqi program may be much further along than anybody ever anticipated," Hoekstra said.

Over at TPM, we've been keeping tabs on the robo calls being done by the National Republican Congressional Committee all over the country.

In each case, the calls begin with "Hi, I'm calling with information about [insert local Democratic candidate here]," and then continues to provide negative information about the candidate. Counter to FCC rules, which require that the caller identify themselves early on in the call, the calls only reveal that they are paid for by the NRCC at the end of the call. You can listen to one of these calls (from New York's 19th district) here. There are more than a few reports of voters getting frustrated by repeated calls they believe to be from the Dem candidate. [Update: Here is a recording of someone's glutted answering machine in Tammy Duckworth's district.]

The firm conducting the calls is Conquest Communications, and reviewing the NRCC's independent expenditures filed with the FEC over the past week shows Conquest active in 20 different House races. The full list of expenditures, which includes the incredibly cheap price tags for these calls which reach hundreds of thousands of voters, is below the fold.

Late Update: Here is a version of the call in Georgia's 8th District, against Dem Jim Marshall, and here's a version of the call in New York's 25th District, against Jim Maffei.

Later Update: Here's a good story on the calls from Maffei's local news station.

Read More →

In New Mexico yesterday, the state Democratic Party accused its GOP counterpart of calling Democratic voters and falsely telling them their polling place has changed.

This morning, the AP reports, the Dems are asking a judge to immediately bar the GOP from calling any registered Democratic voters in the state.

In their defense, the New Mexico Republicans are saying it happened just once, and it was a mistake.

"It was one woman," New Mexico GOP director Marta Kramer told the AP yesterday. "There were three other people in the voter file with the same name. The volunteer said 'Hi' and identified herself and left a phone number. She (the voter) called back and said this is who I am and gave her address and we gave her the correct information." An account of one call obtained by TPMmuckraker indicates that the GOP volunteer identified herself as calling from the Republican party.

But in a conversation with me this morning, New Mexico Democratic Party director Matt Farrauto said the GOP had given incorrect information to more than just one Democrat.

"I am standing in front of four people who had it happen to them, and there's a fifth woman who contacted me this morning," Farrauto told me. The group was standing in the courthouse lobby, he said, waiting to meet with a judge who could order the GOP's calls to stop.

Contacted by phone last night, the judge had verbally agreed to issue the injunction, but she had not yet signed the paperwork, Farrauto told me.

GOP Rep. Faults White House on Iraq Site "House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra [R-MI] criticized the Bush administration on Sunday for its handling of a trove of once-secret documents from Saddam Hussein's covert nuclear program disclosed on a federal Web site.

"Hoekstra...complained the U.S. intelligence community hadn't properly declassified the documents....

"President Bush's director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, ordered the documents posted on the site last March, at the request of Republicans in Congress who wanted to show Saddam was a real threat." (AP)

Read More →