Arizona Dark Money Group Hit With Lawsuit Over Robocalls

Americans for Responsible Leadership, the Arizona dark money group that tangled with California’s campaign finance watchdog agency last fall, has been slapped with a lawsuit in Colorado, where a woman claims she received robocalls from the group in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.The lawsuit, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Colorado, is seeking class-action status. The complaint claimed that Marlo Edholm, a resident of Denver, received five robocalls from Americans for Responsible Leadership to her cell phone in the days leading up to Election Day. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) makes it illegal for automated phone calls to be made to cell phones, except in cases of emergency or where the called party has given prior consent.

“Plaintiff Marlo Edholm received at least five illegal robocalls from [Americans for Responsible Leadership] and brings this class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, to ensure both that [Americans for Responsible Leadership] ceases its practice of illegally robocalling voters in the future and that [Americans for Responsible Leadership] pays appropriate statutory damages for its past conduct,” the complaint states.

Included in the complaint were the scripts from the alleged calls. On Nov. 5, for instance, Edholm received a call that said:

Hi, this is Pam with Americans for Responsible Leadership. I’m calling to remind you that tomorrow is Election Day. Mitt Romney has a plan to get America back on track. We can’t afford four more years of Barack Obama as president. Please vote for Mitt Romney for president. This call was paid for by Americans for Responsible Leadership and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 602-845-9854.

Americans for Responsible Leadership, which is based in Phoenix, dropped millions of dollars on campaigns and ballot initiative fights last fall, most notably in California, where an $11 million donation drew scrutiny from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). As a 501(c)4 “social welfare” non-profit, Americans for Responsible Leadership does not have to disclose its donors under federal law. But the FPPC went after the group by pointing to state disclosure laws, and eventually forced the non-profit to admit that it had served merely as a pass-through for the money.

Expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this fall showed that Americans for Responsible Leadership paid millions of dollars to third-party companies in October and November for phone calls supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and opposing Obama. Presumably, Edholm received calls related to those expenditures.

“It’s our expectation that there were lots and lots and lots of these calls made,” Edholm’s lawyer, Joseph Mellon, told TPM on Wednesday.

According to the complaint, if Americans for Responsible Leadership is found to have “willfully and knowingly” violated the TCPA, it could cost the group $1,500 per violation.

A spokesperson for Americans for Responsible Leadership told TPM that as of Tuesday, the group had yet to receive the lawsuit, but that it had initiated an internal investigation into the matter.

“Of the millions of phone calls made, this is the first complaint ARL has been made aware of — of cell phones being called,” spokesman Barrett Marson said.

In early November, a reader alerted TPM after receiving a robocall from Americans for Responsible Leadership. The reader noted that he possessed a California landline number, but that he had transferred the number to a cell phone some time before moving to Pennsylvania.

(h/t Arizona Capitol Times)