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Anti-call crusader targets candidate

‘Do not call’ list leader files complaint against Hart board candidate who sent out automated phone

Posted: October 19, 2009 10:50 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A Saugus man who helped spearhead the creation of the statewide "do not call" list has cried foul over "robo-calls" sent out by a school board candidate.

Robert Arkow, founder of Californians Against Telephone Solicitation, has filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission against Joe Messina for the automated calls his campaign created, which wrongly questioned the endorsements of opponent Suzan Solomon.

Messina and Solomon are both running for seats on the William S. Hart Union High School District board in the Nov. 3 election.

Messina last week blamed the misinformation in the automated calls on the firm he hired and said he had stopped the calls.

In response to Arkow's complaint, Messina said Monday the robo-calls were legal because his campaign used a third-party company to produce and distribute them. Calls are a common component of any campaign, Messina said.

"It's a common practice in campaigns," Messina said. "Campaigns use mailers and e-mails and robo-calls together."

An official from the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates calls, said robo-calls are legal so long as the company is placing calls from outside California.

The commission's jurisdiction is limited to calls placed from within the state, so calls from any other state are under federal jurisdiction.

Under federal law, political messages are exempt from telemarketing restrictions.

Messina wrote in an e-mail sent last week that the automated calls were released accidentally by the company that was hired to produce them. The message in the calls wrongly claimed Solomon did not receive an endorsement from state Sen. Tony Strickland when, in fact, she had.

After he heard the calls had been mistakenly sent out, he stopped them as soon as possible, he said in an interview Thursday.

If the utilities commission determines Messina has made illegal calls, he could be fined up to $500 for each complaint the commission receives, according to the commission's penal code.

Arkow, who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for about 20 years, said auto-calling violations are rarely prosecuted. He said most politicians are aware of loopholes in the law and make sure to hire auto-calling companies out of the state.

For Arkow, stopping auto calls has become a personal crusade during the past 15 years. He said politicians forget how annoying robo-calls are.

"When you get your call during dinner, they'll remember your name and vote for the other guy," Arkow said.


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