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Robocall cost group $100,000

A nonprofit group that launched an illegal robocall just before this year's primary election will have to pay $100,000 in penalties, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.

The group, Women's Voices Women Vote, launched the call which told voters they would soon receive voter registration forms in the mail, according to a news release. But the deadline to register for the primary had passed. The call didn't include information about who made the call, so confused voters couldn't get clarification.

Cooper's announcement seemed aimed at those launching their own robocalls now.

"My office takes quick action against robocalls that don't strictly follow the law," Cooper said, adding that he believes robocallers should honor the Do Not Call Registry, which stops telemarkers, but not campaigns from calling. "If you get illegal telemarketing calls, let my office know about it."

Women's Voices Women Vote will pay $100,000 in civil penalties. The money will go to North Carolina schools. The group has agreed to stay out of the election in North Carolina. Before it can resume political activity, it must give Cooper's office a written description of how it would comply with state law.

Cooper said anyone receiving an illegal robocall or telemarketing pitch can call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Update: In a news release, Women's Voices Women Vote said that the group acknoledges it violated the law, but that the calls were meant to encourage participation and that the group's name was mistakenly left off the robocalls.

"It was not our intention that the robocalls or our mailings cause any comfusion as to whether any individual was already registered to vote," Page Gardner, president of the grop said in a news release. "Our effort was squarely aimed at encouraging registration of underrepresented voters in North Carolina for the upcoming general election."

NAACP wants robo calls investigated

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP wants an aggressive investigation into recent automated calls it suspects are meant to confuse voters and suppress the black vote.

Rev. William Barber II, president of the state’s NAACP chapter, sent a complaint Saturday to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper that outlines information the group has gathered about Women's Voices Women Vote — the group behind the robo calls, reports Titan Barksdale.

The calls tell voters to expect a voter-registration packet in the mail, but the calls were made after the deadline for registration in North Carolina. A man who identifies himself as Lamont Williams provides the misinformation.

“We want this taken very seriously,” Barber said. “[The calls] are a danger to our democracy and a danger to what’s best about this country.”

Cooper has said the calls are illegal because they did not disclose who sponsored the call or give contact information about their source.

“Regardless of the motivation, the robo-calls violated the law and they needed to stop,” Cooper said in a statement Wednesday.

Jennifer Canada, a spokeswoman for Cooper’s office, has said the calls continue to be investigated.

Women's Voices has strong ties to Clinton

The group behind the "Lamont Williams" calls has strong ties to Hillary Clinton.

According to research by the Center for Investigative Reporting, principals in Women's Voices Women Vote have given $34,800 to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or her political action committee since 2000, while only giving $3,600 to Barack Obama and $2,300 to John Edwards.

(In fairness, Obama did not run for U.S. Senate until 2004 and Edwards was not a national figure until his presidential campaign that year.)

The group's leadership have worked with the Clintons as well.

Founder Page Gardner served as the deputy political director for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, Joe Goode was a pollster for him, Mimi Mager served as a member of the Clinton transition team and John Podesta was chief of staff to President Clinton.

There are some non-Clinton connections, too, including Obama supporters William McNary and Todd Webster and Edwards supporter Chris Dresser.

Asked by The Insider about the connections earlier this week, Clinton's state organizer Ace Smith acted offended.

"You're asking me about something that has nothing to do with our campaign," he said. "This is getting to conspiracy talk."

Hat Tip: Facing South

Cooper: Robocalls were illegal

Roy CooperAttorney General Roy Cooper said the "Lamont Williams" calls were illegal.

In a statement, the attorney general said that automated calls from Women's Voices Women Vote that encouraged voters to mail in voter registration forms after the state's deadlines violated state law by failing to disclose who sponsored the call or give contact information.

"Regardless of the motivation, the robo-calls violated the law and they needed to stop," Cooper said in a statement.

The organization told the attorney general's office today that the calls would stop. Cooper's office did not say if the group would face any sanctions for making the calls.

Cooper also urged political parties and campaigns to honor the Do Not Call Registry, although it does not currently cover political robocalls. He encouraged voters with concerns to call the state's telemarketing hotline, 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Update: Cooper spokewoman Jennifer Canada said the attorney general's office will continue to investigate the calls before deciding on any sanctions. 

Obama: Robocalls 'extremely disturbing'

The Barack Obama campaign said the "Lamont Williams" calls were "extremely disturbing."

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, legal counsel Bob Bauer said that recent robocalls by Women's Voices Women Vote to North Carolina voters fit "the classic model of voter suppression" by introducing confusion just before an election.

But he stopped short of saying that the calls were designed to suppress votes, noting that the group said that the calls were not meant to be misleading.

"They have said it's inadvertent and I understand it will not happen again," he said. 

He said the group has pledged to cooperate with state regulators and apologized for the mistakes, so the Obama campaign does not see any reason to push for legal action.

Still, Bauer said that the Obama campaign will have "no tolerance" for voter suppression efforts in the future and is encouraging voters to report them on its Web site.  

D.C. group behind robocalls

A Washington-based nonprofit is behind the "Lamont Williams" calls.

According to Facing South, a staffer for Women's Voices Women Vote admitted that it was behind recent robocalls that gave misleading information about voter registration.

The State Board of Elections has been looking for the source of the calls.

The nonprofit told the Institute for Southern Studies, which runs the Facing South blog, that the calls were part of a 24-state effort to register unmarried women. But the calls do not mention the group's name, they come from an unlisted number and they are misleading.

The calls tell voters to look for a voter-registration packet in the mail, but they were made after the deadline passed in North Carolina for mail-in registration.

Complaints have been made in Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona about similarly misleading calls.

"The reports from other states are very disturbing, especially the pattern of mass confusion among targeted voters on the eve of a state's primary," Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall told Facing South.

Lamont also called in Ohio, Virginia

"Lamont Williams" also made calls in Ohio.

The bogus robocaller — currently being hunted by the State Board of Elections for giving misinformation to black voters in North Carolina — also made calls in Ohio last year, according to Facing South.

Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, found the connection with help from a reader:

Facing South has learned that these calls -- even down to the name of the supposed caller -- are very similar to calls used last year in Ohio. In November 2007, a voter in Columbus, Ohio wrote in to the Buckeye State Blog with this eerily familiar story:

I just got a weird robo-call that I suspect may be a form of voter suppression, albeit kinda braindead. From memory, a stentorian voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones says: "Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In a few days you should be getting a voter registration form in the mail. Please fill it out and return promptly and you will be able to vote. Thank you.

Update: Voters also received similar calls in Virginia. 

Elections board hunting robocaller

State elections officials are asking for the public's help in identifying the source of misleading and potentially illegal robocalls.

In at least one version of the call, a man says that voter registration packets must be returned before a person can vote. The State Board of Elections released a transcript of the call.

"Hello, this is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return the voter registration form when it arrives. Thank you."

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said in a news release that the calls were being made to African American households. The good government watchdog posted audio of the call.

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