Penalty Possible For Robocalls In Agriculture Commissioner Race

According to Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, there may be civil penalties for a firm making robocalls on behalf of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau is backing Republican Judy Estenson in a nomination challenge to incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, also a Republican.

“In response to a call, we contacted the NDFB, which confirmed that it contracted with an out of state entity to make calls on its behalf,” Brocker told me in an email, and noted that “the company has agreed to an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.”

She also noted that there is “usually a civil penalty assessed with an AVC.”

Robocalls are unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls, and they are illegal in North Dakota per section 51-28-02 of the state Century Code:

51-28-02. Use of prerecorded or synthesized voice messages.
A caller may not use or connect to a telephone line an automatic dialing-announcing device or deliver a prerecorded or synthesized voice message to a subscriber unless the subscriber has knowingly requested, consented to, permitted, or authorized receipt of the message or the message is immediately preceded by a live operator who obtains the subscriber’s consent before the message is delivered. This section and section 51-28-05 do not apply to a message from a public safety agency notifying a person of an emergency; a message from a school district to a student, a parent, or an employee; a message to a subscriber with whom the caller has a current business relationship; or a message advising an employee of a work schedule.

Robocalls are pretty common in other states, where they’re legal, and it seems like every election cycle one political entity or another is guilty of (or, at least, is accused of) making them in North Dakota.

The NDGOP will hold their statewide endorsing convention in Minot this weekend. Both Goehring and Estenson have been campaigning for delegates. Goehring has said that if he doesn’t win at the convention he’ll run to the June primary ballot.

Update: Looks like the fine will be $500.

Update: The AVC is below.

Also the Goehring campaign just sent out this press release:

Bismarck, N.D. — The North Dakota Attorney General’s office has fined a company earlier today for making illegal robo calls on behalf of the North Dakota Farm Bureau attacking current North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Doug Goehring.

 The fine resulted from an investigation of a formal complaint made to the North Dakota Attorney General’s office about the calls.

“These calls are just another example of the mean spirited and personal attacks North Dakota Farm Bureau has employed in their campaign to unseat Commissioner Goehring because of their policy differences,” said Jerry Klein, Goehring campaign spokesperson. “Worse yet, the Farm Bureau has now resorted to illegal campaign tactics in their slash and burn campaign.”

Besides the robo calls being a violation of the law by themselves, the fact that they were made on behalf of the North Dakota Farm Bureau could mean they are a violation of North Dakota campaign finance law, too.

The Estenson Campaign and the North Dakota Farm Bureau have previously shown disregard for North Dakota campaign laws. Estenson campaign materials and website fail to include political disclaimers disclosing the source of the materials in accordance with North Dakota law.

 “These robo calls prove that not only does the Estenson Campaign and the North Dakota Farm Bureau have little regard for the truth in this campaign, they don’t care much about the law, either,” said Klein.

Farm Bureau AVC

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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