When Robots Are Used for Evil, Nobody Wins (Except the robots)

Somehow, political robotic telemarketing seems even more annoying than robotic telemarketing that’s trying to sell me something. Thankfully, I haven’t gotten any of these calls:

Column: Just a bit of hypocrisy in Simmons’ attitude regarding robo calls

On Politics

Congressman Rob Simmons wants to share a phone number with his constituents in the 2nd Congressional District, and he’s urging people to call it: (202) 393-4352.

The number belongs to “American Family Voices,” the group behind the recent rash of the so-called robo calls — automated phone messages — that have flooded homes in Eastern Connecticut, urging residents to call Simmons’ office and tell him they don’t like his position against federal funding for port security.

Simmons has, in the past, claimed these calls have caused a major disruption of his staff’s ability to do its work as hundreds of constituents have called to complain about receiving the unwanted automated messages. So his solution to the problem is ask residents to call “American Family Voices” — and tell them to knock it off.

According to Simmons — and these are his words — American Family Voices is “notorious,” “a shadowy, partisan” organization using “these sleazy and deceptive” calls to distort his voting record.

I don’t recall the congressman being as equally outraged back in 2002 when another organization — United Seniors — flooded the homes of Eastern Connecticut with automated calls asking residents to call the congressman and “thank him” for passing a prescription-drug bill for seniors.

I guess all those thank-you calls weren’t as disruptive to the congressman’s staff. Or maybe there weren’t that many calls because Congress never did pass a prescription drug bill for seniors in 2002.

United Seniors also ran a slew of television commercials that year thanking the congressman for passing the legislation. Art Linkletter was the spokesman. Yes, the same Art Linkletter that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued for another series of TV ads the attorney general thought were “deceptive.”

But I actually agree with the congressman on this point.

The robo calls are annoying and I think we should all pick up our phones and call the groups behind them and let them know how it feels to be bombarded with unwanted calls.

Who could forget those annoying “Laura” phone calls from the 2002 campaign that attacked the integrity of Simmons’ Democratic challenger, Joe Courtney. Talk about sleazy.

I remember sitting with the congressman in his campaign office in Mystic where he conceded how deplorable he thought they were, and then threw up his hands and said, “but there’s nothing I can do about them.”

I think Simmons is onto something now. His idea of calling those responsible is a good one. So in the spirit of putting an end to this kind of campaign tactic, let me share a phone number with him: (202) 479-7000. The congressman might recognize it.

That’s the number of the National Republican Congressional Campaign, an organization of which he is a member, and the group responsible for the “Laura” calls.

I pass this along so the congressman can share it with constituents later this year when the National Republican Campaign Committee gets its phone banks up and running.

And, in the spirit of fairness, let me also point out my direct line — and e-mail address — is at the bottom of this column.

So feel free to call me as well — even if you disagree with me. I don’t have a problem with people calling my office. I don’t find it disruptive at all.

On another front, we have bowling for dollars.

Tomorrow night (Monday, March 6) you can have the opportunity to go bowling with Simmons and Courtney. Each is holding a fund-raiser for his respective election campaign.

Simmons and his supporters will gather at the Lucky Strike Lanes, 701 Seventh St. NW — Gallery Place in Washington — from 6 to 8 p.m. The cost is $2,500 for a sponsor (that’s up to four bowlers, and includes a logo on a shirt); $1,000 per Political Action Committee (up to two bowlers — not sure about the shirt) and $250 per individual bowler (apparently no shirt included).

Courtney will be at the Norwich Ten Pin Bowl at 188 W. Town St. in Norwich from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The cost is $5 per person. It’s a BYOS (Bring Your Own Shirt) affair.

Ray Hackett is the Norwich Bulletin’s chief political reporter, with more than 30 years experience covering politics on the local, state and national level. He has covered Connecticut politics for the Bulletin for more than 17 years. His column appears Sundays. Reach Ray Hackett at 425-4225 or rhackett@ norwichbulletin.com

Originally published March 5, 2006