By SHARAHN D. BOYKIN, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - They interrupted untold thousands of dinners during last fall's election season. But now, those annoying recorded phone calls from politicians and celebrities asking you for your vote are under attack by some of the same people they helped put in office.
State lawmakers debated proposals Tuesday that would ban political campaigns from using the automated prerecorded phone messages on Marylanders registered with the national Do Not Call Registry.
"We're taking away a tool that politicians find effective," said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore, who sponsored one of the bills.
Indeed, other lawmakers said the political phone solicitations were part of the political campaign process, and candidates use them because they work.
"There's no 'Do Not Mail' registry. There's no 'Do Not TV' registry. There's no 'Do Not Radio' registry," said Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R- Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne.
Pipkin argued that the proposal would diminish a candidate's capacity to refute last minute attacks on candidates by mail or television. The phone is a candidate's last option to reach constituents when there is not enough time to run an advertisement or mail a letter.
During the last campaign season, Baltimore County residents bombarded with the automated calls threatened not to vote for Brochin or anyone in his district if the calls did not stop, Brochin testified before the Senate Finance Committee.
Brochin admits to using an automated prerecorded message with then-mayor Martin O'Malley's voice five years ago, before the creation of the Do Not Call Registry, but said he did not use the recorded calls one during the last campaign season.
Currently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversees the National Do Not Call Registry, allows phone solicitations from political organizations, charities and phone surveys. Also, organizations are permitted to call an individual with whom they have done business for up to a year and six months after the last transaction.
Individual states and the FTC started the registry in 2003 promising to reduce the number of telemarketing calls within three months after an individual added a phone number. By 2005, more than 107 million phone numbers were added to the national registry.
Violators of the campaign prohibition would be subject to $1,000 for the first offense, and a $5,000 fine for each subsequent offense.
"If we have a right to have a No Trespassing sign on our lawn, we have a right to have a No Trespassing sign on our phone," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard, who sponsored another proposal banning the political phone solicitations. Kittleman said he received prerecorded political messages from Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong.