A series of robo-calls targeting northern Harford County delegates Donna Stifler and Wayne Norman have prompted another delegate, B. Dan Riley, to seek a state investigation and to offer a reward for the arrest of those involved with making the calls.
At the center of the controversy is the Rt. 40 Republican Club and its president, Stephen Wright, who, while apparently claiming responsibility for the robo-calls, denied anything illegal had been committed.
Though its roots can be traced to unrest in the delegation dating back to last year, this saga began on the afternoon of Feb. 9, odd and anonymous automated telephone messages began calling the homes of northern Harford residents.
Those calls claimed Norman was attacking then-delegation chair Del. Susan McComas and the Republican party and hurting Harford County’s efforts for an elected Board of Education.
Not long thereafter, a second wave of robo-calls attacked Stifler, who represents District 35A along with Norman, in a similar fashion.
Last week, Riley announced he was offering a $250 reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for what he called “illegal robo-calls” and launching an investigation into the robo-call messages which have “been used to attack several members of our county’s delegation.”
Riley pointed out the automated telephone calls lack a proper authority line, required for all political advertising and campaigning.
“These cowards must be exposed and our democratic political process preserved,” Riley wrote.
Here is a copy of Riley’s letter:
After sending his letter to Wright, who is also a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee, the Rt. 40 Republican Club president addressed Riley’s assertions in a letter of his own.
“Please inform me as to how these political messages can be considered ‘attacks.’ The messages are true, are they not?,” Wright wrote.
“Mr. Riley, please explain what law you feel these ‘perpetrators’ who need ‘arrest and conviction’ have violated? I have investigated the matter in depth. There is nothing illegal about the messages. But if you and Wayne Norman, Esq. believe that there is something ‘illegal’ and ‘criminal’ about them, please be precise and let me know and I will inform the Board of Directors of the Rt. 40 Republican Club, Inc., of your position,” he continued.
Below is Wright’s letter, as provided by Riley:
On Thursday, Dan Friedman, Counsel to the General Assembly, weighed in on Riley’s accusations, saying he could not comment directly on the case and the calls, but pointing Riley to a section of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which reads as follows:
“…all artifical or prerecorded telephone messages (i) shall, at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity initiating the call, and (ii) shall, during or after the message, state clearly the telephone number or address of such business, other entity, or individual.”
Friedman also noted that violations of the act are subject to penalties of $500 to $1,500 and “if willfully and knowingly intended to intimidate voters,” may also violate state electoin laws.
Here is Friedman’s letter:
While no charges have been brought as of posting, delegates have filed complaints with the Attorney General, State Board of Elections, and State prosecutor. The Speaker of the House has also been made aware of the incidents, and investigations are ongoing.