A Windham woman who said she is on the federal Do Not Call Registry was both surprised and angry to get a recorded call from the National Organization for Marriage yesterday morning, because it may have violated state law.
"It's totally irritating me," Eileen Mashimo said. "Because it's an outside organization. And if they can't respect the New Hampshire state laws, they shouldn't be in New Hampshire."
A 2003 state law regarding "prerecorded political messages" — more commonly known as "robocalls" — says they cannot be sent "to any telephone number on any federal not call list."
The law defines a robocall as a message from a candidate, political committee or any person that "expressly or implicitly" advocates for or against a party or candidate. Violating the law can result in a fine of $5,000 per offense.
Mashimo said the call she received said the National Organization for Marriage was conducting a poll. She was asked if she believed marriage should be between a man or a woman, and given the option of saying yes, no or hanging up.
"I just said, 'This is an illegal phone call,'" she said. "And then it just went into its spiel."
That "spiel," she said, included railing against Gov. John Lynch. She said the call tied up her line for about a minute, not allowing her to disconnect.
"I don't really care about what it was about," Mashimo said of the call. "Just the mere fact that they called, and they took over my phone."
Mashimo was also concerned — but not sure — if the call could be an illegal push poll. Under New Hampshire law, a "push poll" is a call made on behalf of, or against, a certain candidate, that asks questions about opposing candidates.
The calls have to be made in a way that the recipients think they are participating in a survey or poll to gather statistical data. They are legal in the state if certain disclosures are made during the call.
When contacted about the call Mashimo received, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown released a statement, saying, "Nonprofit organizations and political campaigns are specifically exempted from the Do Not Call list."
In other states without their own laws, political campaign and charitable calls are exempt from the Do Not Call list. When asked specifically about the call and New Hampshire's law against calling people on the Do Not Call Registry, Brown released another statement.
"This is not a 'push-poll,' it is an issue advocacy survey. We name who we are on the calls as the National Organization for Marriage and don't claim to be independent of any particular interest group," Brown said.
"We seek legal advice before we make calls in any particular state and follow the law. This is simply another attempt to silence those who stand up for marriage."
Mashimo called New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner's office and was referred to the attorney general's special hot line for election issues. The Windham woman then discovered she wasn't the first to complain about such political calls.
"They were like, 'Oh, we've been getting dozens of phone calls about this, not just this organization but others," Mashimo said.
Attorney Matthew Mavrogeorge, who works in the civil division of the attorney general's office, pointed to the prerecorded political call statute when asked whether calling someone on the Do Not Call Registry is illegal in New Hampshire.
"As far as any particulars of that, or how it's interpreted or how it would be applied, we can't comment on that right now," Mavrogeorge said.
But he said if a complaint is filed, it is reviewed. The office sends an acknowledgment letter to the person who complained, and the complaint is reviewed along with all other election complaints.
"If it's something that needs to be investigated, then we'll have an investigator do that," he said.
Mavrogreoge said the attorney general's office had been receiving complaints about phone calls since the primary.
"The ones that have been described as push polls are probably the No. 1 type of complaint we've gotten for this election cycle," Mavrogeorge said.
But push polls are not all illegal. To be a legal push poll, the organization must identify itself, provide a telephone number, and say the call is being made for or against a candidate.
Mashimo said the organization did identify itself and provide a phone number, but she was not sure if it said they were working for or against a candidate. For that reason, it's important to listen to the whole call since the legal disclosure often comes at the end, Mavrogeorge said.
"If they're going to be making a complaint, it's always important to listen to the entire call because sometimes the particular disclosure, you may not hear it if you end up terminating," he said.
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