By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – Here’s the time and temperature. Now, how about your vote?
Mike Carter, a Wentzville attorney who is running for lieutenant governor, on Saturday began a blitz of automated political messages seeking Missourians’ support.
Carter owns a service that provides people with the time and temperature in the St. Louis area.
But now those calls, which show “Time and Temperature” on the caller ID, come with a bonus. Or, depending how one looks at it, an unwanted solicitation.
Missouri Watchdog dialed the number (314-321-2522) Monday morning and got this message: “You’ve reached St. Louis time and temperature. This is Mike Carter. You know I run this service, but you may not know I’m running for lieutenant governor. I’d like to invite you to MikeCarter.com because I’m going to be sending out a lot of robocalls in the next month and if you’d like to be off the list, go to MikeCarter.com.”
That was followed by the time and temperature — a balmy 91 at 11:18 a.m.
Visitors to Carter’s website who click the “Do Not Call Info” button are greeted not only with the chance to take their number off his list, but also the opportunity to donate to his campaign.
Carter invites visitors to join the National Political Do Not Call Registry at StopPoliticalCalls.org – an organization asking that “politicians from all sides of the aisle refrain from making political robocalls,” Carter’s website notes.
Carter did not return two calls from Watchdog on Monday. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his support for an automated political call registry is not inconsistent with his current practice, because he gives callers the option to be taken off the list. Carter said he planned more robocall campaigns in the next few weeks.
Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, told Watchdog that Carter’s practice falls in line with the aim of the political registry.
“The ideal would be not to place robocalls,” Stephens said, “but if your competitors are making robocalls you would be at a disadvantage if you don’t participate.”
Carter’ opponents, which include incumbent Peter Kinder, have yet to place mass calls in this race. Kinder used the practice in 2009 to support the re-election bid of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
StopPoliticalCalls.org founder Shaun Dakin said robocalls are often a powerful tool for an underdog.
“I think he’s very smart,” Dakin told Watchdog. “He’s underfunded and running against the establishment.”
That might seem an odd perspective for the man promoting the registry, but Dakin said Carter is the only candidate in the United States who has pledged to support his organization’s mission in 2012.
Dakin said his group isn’t trying to eliminate politicians’ ability to use the automated messages. It just wants to give voters the ability to avoid them.
“Most candidates do this and don’t give people any way to opt out,” he said.
Dakin said most candidates use voter lists to place the calls, and people who want to dodge the messages should not include their phone numbers — which are usually optional — on the forms when they register to vote.
Nanci Gonder, press secretary for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, said the AG’s office has only fielded one call about Carter’s weekend blitz.
“We haven’t had any formal complaints,” she told Watchdog.
Carter ran unsuccessfully for the seat on the Democratic ticket in 2008, and he used a similar tactic during that campaign. He told the Post-Dispatch he got the OK from the AG’s office then. Gov. Jay Nixon was the state’s head prosecutor in 2008.
Gonder said she searched unsuccessfully Monday for records of Carter’s discussion with the previous administration, but doubts his calls run afoul of the law.
While Missouri allows its residents to avoid telemarketing calls of a business nature, there is no such prohibition on political messages.
Other states have such bans. Indiana’s law prohibiting all robocalls was recently upheld by that state’s Supreme Court.
“If Mike Carter lived in Indiana he couldn’t be doing what he’s doing,” Dakin said.