Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hopefuls complain about ‘robocalls’

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At least two instances of automated campaign phone calls warning voters of a Montgomery County Council District 4 candidate’s ties to developer funding have been reported less than two weeks away from the primary election.

Alan Banov, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, received a ‘‘robocall” from an automated female voice last week, and at least one other such call has been reported since.

Banov saved the message, and transcribed it to read as follows: ‘‘... the upcoming County Council special election, please remember, Nancy Navarro will take campaign moneys from developers. When you get her campaign mail and phone calls, ask yourself: If Nancy takes developer money, will she represent the people or just the developers?”

Banov, who does not live within District 4, said he took the call as ‘‘a serious robocall from someone who did not want the listener to vote for Nancy Navarro.” There was a pause at the beginning of the message, he said, where an authority line should have identified the caller. When the number is dialed, the caller is routed to a voicemail and fax system.

David Moon, Navarro’s campaign manager, said Navarro would not be taking any formal action at this time, and was instead waiting for someone to step forward and take responsibility for what he calls ‘‘an egregious violation of campaign finance and compliance laws.”

‘‘We haven’t gone on a witch hunt, or filed any complaints. ... We’re trying to run a positive race here,” Moon said.

Jared DeMarinis, director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance with the Maryland State Board of Elections, said that authority lines, or the beginning of an automated message that announces where the message is coming from, are not part of the state campaign laws. But the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires that pre-recorded messages state the business, entity or party initiating the call, and Maryland laws mirror that.

‘‘It bothered me in two ways. One, because it was negative ... and second, because it didn’t have an authority line,” Banov said. ‘‘Personally, I think it would be a turnoff for most people.”

Navarro, a Silver Spring resident, did not address the negative phone calls directly, but questioned why she was being targeted for taking developer money when Marilyn Praisner, the late District 4 County Councilwoman from Calverton whose death triggered the special election, had also taken campaign contributions from developers.

The other candidates in the race have denounced any negative campaign tactics.

‘‘If it’s true, it’s outrageous and there should be consequences for it,” said Democrat Steve Kanstoroom of Ashton.

Republican Thomas Hardman of Aspen Hill called the phone calls ‘‘typical dirty politics.”

‘‘That annoys me,” he said. ‘‘I call this phone spam.”

Eric Hensal, the campaign manager for Praisner’s widower, Don Praisner, said ‘‘one person and 500 bucks could do it,” and questioned how widespread the phone call was.

‘‘Definitely, it’s not something we in the campaign would do,” he said. ‘‘Don is opposed to that sort of thing.”

The special election filling Marilyn Praisner’s vacant seat will be held April 15. For more information regarding the special primaries and election, call the Board of Elections at 240-777-VOTE (8683).

Staff Writer Janel Davis contributed to this report.