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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 6, 2009

Who made the robo calls?

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — On Friday, July 31, a political robo call began making the rounds in Guilderland. No one is taking credit for it.

The automated message criticized town officials for not resolving the flooding problem on Route 20 in front of Stuyvesant Plaza; a portion of Western Avenue had been closed that afternoon after heavy rains.

The recording, in a woman’s voice, ended by urging people to vote for change in the fall elections. The message was anonymous, with no statement explaining who had initiated the phone call, or who had sponsored it.

“Last month, the Guilderland Town Board led us to believe that they had fixed the flooding issues impacting our town,” the robotic call began. “This fall, you can take matters into your own hands. Hold our government accountable. Vote for new leadership,” it concluded.
The Enterprise has received several letters this week, from individuals who received the phone call, and were angry that no one took responsibility for it. But, according to the Federal Trade Commission, nothing about the automated call was illegal.

Democratic Supervisor Kenneth Runion said that, while the recording did not mention specific names, it did call for a change in administration, which he said clearly indicates criticism of the Democrats.

The chairman of the Republican Committee, Ted Danz, said that he did not know who was responsible for the robo call, and if Republicans are accountable for it, they initiated it completely independently of the committee. Danz said he believes the reason some people may be upset is that the message rings true.

“It has been ten years, and nothing has been done about the problem. I’ll believe in the solution when I see it,” said Danz, adding that, if he had been behind the telephone message, he would take credit for it.

Republican Councilman Warren Redlich, along with Republican candidates Matthew Nelligan and Peter Golden, currently campaigning for the fall election, echoed Danz’s sentiments, although Redlich disagreed with the idea that the message was only critical of the Democrats.

“The notion that it’s an attack against Runion is wrong,” said Redlich. “It references the Guilderland Town Board, myself included.” Redlich, always a strong advocate of taking credit for things he writes, said he would have put his name on the phone message if he had played a role in it.

Matthew Nelligan, who is making his first run for town board, on the Republican ticket, was disgusted by the reaction to the phone call.

“All of this stuff is a distraction, and the incumbents are using this so we can stop talking about the issues. It’s almost like they want to come out and whine about this stuff,” Nelligan said.

Although Nelligan did not claim responsibility, he said the message fell under the category of freedom of speech.

Peter Golden, Runion’s opponent, said he was on Western Avenue in person when the flooding happened on Friday, and played no part in the robo calls. He did agree with the gist of the call, though, stating that Runion had 10 years to address the issues, and only became active when he was being challenged for the position of supervisor.

“Nobody was threatened by this phone call. It is freedom of speech,” said Golden.

A public affairs specialist from the Federal Trade Commission, Mitch Katz, said that political robo calls do not require any type of identification, and are not regulated by federal legislation.

The FTC has authority only over telemarketing sales calls; a sales call requires the callers to state their name, where they are calling from, whether they work for the company they are calling for, and a phone number where they can be reached, said Katz. Individuals who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls can put themselves on a national do-not-call list, which is maintained by the FTC.

Even though technology has made robo calls ubiquitous in campaigns, Katz said they are exempt from legislation, and there is no do-not-call list for them.

“I get people asking all the time for the political calls to stop. I tell them they will stop — the day after the election,” Katz said.

The Federal Election Commission regulates political advertisement on websites, newspapers, television, and in direct mail, according to spokeswoman Julia Queen. If a person other than a candidate funds such advertising, it must be recorded, because it is considered an “individual expenditure,” or campaign contribution, said Queen. The FEC, however, does not regulate robo calls.

Runion said that, although it is not required for robo calls to have a name attached to them, most political calls do. He said the Guilderland recording carries a Republican message, which is a place to start, but he won’t lay any blame.

“These things are expensive, and I can’t see a private citizen going out and spending the money. It’s seems like something that was organized by a group,” said Runion.

“But the anonymity doesn’t bother me much. What bothers me is the false information,” Runion said.

According to the supervisor, the information in the message is misleading. It states that the flooding on Route 20 has been a problem for over 30 years, and Runion said it has actually plagued the town for more than 50 years.

The town started to look at the issue in depth in 2003, Runion said, but there was always a problem with funding.

The phone message stated, “Last month, the Guilderland Town Board led us to believe that they had fixed the flooding issues impacting our town.”

It is that statement that Runion said he found the most misleading, because the town board just voted to let the project out for bid last month.

“We indicated that we hoped to start work on it by late summer, and have the project complete by late fall,” he said. The $600,000 undertaking has not begun, and therefore the flooding that occurred on July 31 does not signify any type of deception or failure on the part of the town’s current administration, according to Runion.

“I also never indicated that the solution would guarantee no more flooding, but would mitigate the problem,” said Runion.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 5, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the political robo call.       

“This is all just political drama,” Nelligan summed up. “Let’s come back to reality.”

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