Did a July robocall targeting elected officials in Harford County violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act? The answer depends on which Harford County Republican you ask.
By way of background, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler issued a press release in May of last year, hailing a court judgment against Julius Henson and associates for an Election Day call to suppress voter turnout in 2010. Cited in the AG’s release is the following line referencing the Henson robocall and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA):
“Absent from the message was the name and address or phone number of the party that initiated the call, which violates the TCPA.”
Now here’s the text of a July 28 robocall targeting Harford County Delegates Wayne Norman and Donna Stifler, from a pro-life advocacy group formed in March:
“Hi, this is Diane Hussey calling from the Maryland Pro Life Alliance with important pro-life news. Our representatives in Annapolis, Delegate Wayne Norman and Delegate Donna Sifler are not standing up for the unborn and we need to change that. Last year 17 Republicans in the House of Delegates sponsored legislation that would have ended late term abortions after 20 weeks in Maryland. Delegate Norman and Delegate Stifler were not among them. Norman and Stifler need to give us answers as to why they failed to sponsor, or at least co-sponsor, this important lifesaving legislation. Please press 1 now to directly connect with Delegates Norman and Stifler to ask them why they failed to sponsor the Pain-Capable, Unborn Child Protection Act.
Ask them why 17 other Republicans made the right decision and they did not. We need energetic, conservative representation in our elected officials. We need our delegates, Wayne Norman and Donna Stifler to be on the front lines protecting the unborn. The law that Norman and Stifler failed to sponsor is the same pro-life law passed recently in Texas and we need legislators in District 35 who won’t be missing in action when important pro-life issues come up in Annapolis. Please press 1 now to hold Wayne Norman and Donna Stifler accountable on pro-life principals. Tell them to lead in protecting the unborn, not follow, or in their case, be absent altogether. Let them know that we don’t want absent minded leadership on the vital issue of protecting life. This message was paid for by the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance. For more information please go to mdprolife.com. That’s mdprolife.com. Please sign our online petition in support of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and learn how you can get more involved with the pro-life movement in Maryland. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your time.”
Del. Wayne Norman, a Bel Air attorney, said Thursday that the call “appears to violate” the TCPA because it fails to provide the sender’s street address or phone number, citing the AG statement above. Anyone without computer access, especially his older constituents, would be hard pressed to find Ms. Hussey or the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance, he said.
Norman, a pro-life Republican, also objected to the content of the call, saying he never saw the bill in question. “I’m being attacked for doing something I wasn’t aware of, nor was I asked to participate in the bill – it’s nonsensical,” he said.
The Maryland House Republican Caucus issued a press release earlier in the week calling the calls illegal and saying that Norman and Stifler both earned A ratings from the nationally recognized Maryland Right to Life. The release also quotes Norman saying he was “disgusted and appalled by the unethical and illegal tactics used by the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance”, although he didn’t say at the time which law he believed was violated.
Patrick McGrady, founder of the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance and a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee said Friday that he believed the call was legal. “I’m pretty sure we’ve complied with all laws,” he said, charging that Norman was pursing legal action in order to “silence the grassroots”.
Responding the Maryland House Republican Caucus’ press release, the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance fired back with an August 1 email, which appears below.
Asked about his attack on fellow Republicans in light of his membership on the Harford County Republican Central Committee, McGrady said the call was not an attack, and he was simply following the committee’s bylaws in holding elected officials to the party’s pro-life platform.
Kim Wagner, McGrady’s fellow Central Committee member, disagrees. She said Friday that the moves by the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance followed a pattern of some Republicans targeting fellow Republicans for not being Republican enough. “There’s no compromise,” she said. Furthermore, the job of the Central Committee includes supporting and working closely with Republican elected officials, she said: “As a leader and lifelong Republican I cannot condone this behavior. This is not open, honest dialogue between candidates in a primary. They’re taking potshots at elected officials.”
For now, Del. Norman hasn’t decided whether to settle the question of the robocall’s legality in court, but one thing’s for sure: The air at the next gathering of Harford County Republicans will be chilly, no matter the weather.
Below is the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance response to the press release from the Maryland House Republican Caucus: