Friday, September 18, 2009

Was This a Legal Robocall?

Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17) sent out a robocall into his district on Monday without an authority line. Was that legal?

On September 14, many residents of Rockville and Gaithersburg received this phone message:

This is Lou Simmons, your State Delegate. Recently your District 17 legislative team mailed you our Annapolis Report. Together with Senator Forehand and Delegates Barve and Gilchrist, we have made some tough decisions and there are tough decisions ahead in 2010. Please contact me at or call me on 301-589-6400 to share your suggestions and ideas.

This is Delegate Lou Simmons. Thanks for listening.
Section 1-101 of Maryland’s election code defines an individual as a candidate if “a campaign finance entity has been established on behalf of that individual.” Delegate Simmons clearly qualifies. Section 1-101 also defines campaign materials as “any material that… relates to a candidate” and includes “an oral commercial campaign advertisement,” in other words, robocalls. Section 13-401 requires all campaign materials, whether they are distributed by candidates or not, to include authority lines listing the name and address of the campaign treasurer or other entity distributing the message. We have caught both Robin Ficker and the Parents Coalition breaking this rule before.

We sent the following email of inquiry.

Dear Delegate Simmons:

My name is Adam Pagnucco. I am the author of Maryland Politics Watch blog (

I am writing about a recent robocall you made in District 17. Can you tell me whether taxpayer money or campaign funds were used to finance the call? And can you explain why the call lacked an authority line?

Thank you, Adam Pagnucco
He responded:

Dear Adam Thank you for your note. I think it very exciting that you have a Blog. I have not read it. Is this a high school project? Which high school do you attend. We need good journalists today. There so many bloggers today who write scurrilous items without respect for the facts. I am happy to respond to your questions. First I sent out a call to my district on Monday. The call will be paid for from my personal funds. I pay for thousands of dollars of constituent oriented expense from personal funds. The state does not give you much money for staff and outreach etc. The call was not a campaign call and so, in my opinion, it does not require an authority line. The call was part of my periodic outreach to the community I serve. The call begins with me identifying clearly who I am, the purpose of my call, and gives both my email address and telephone number. I hope this is responsive to your inquiry. If you and your class would like to visit Annapolis during the next session I would be happy to arrange it. I wish you success in all of your endeavors and trust you will always be faithful to the highest standards of the profession. Sincere Warm wishes, Luiz
Delegate Simmons says this was just “outreach to the community” and is exempt from state election law. We find no such exemption in the state code. If anyone can, please bring it to our attention. Furthermore, unlike End-of-Session letters written by state staff in Annapolis, this call referred recipients to the Delegate’s private email address. Is that sort of solicitation really outside the state’s regulatory scope? Finally, let’s recall that Simmons is a lawyer who should be sensitive to these types of issues.

Here’s our advice: if there’s any question as to whether a communication is political or is directly related to government service, just throw on the authority line. It’s quick. It’s easy. And you won’t have your email asking a 39-year-old Dad to bring his high school classmates to Annapolis published anywhere. We promise!