Who is behind mysterious -- and legally questionable -- robo-poll about Wake County schools?

Over the last few days, residents of Wake County, N.C. -- the site of a nationally watched battle over its school diversity policy -- have been receiving calls from phone pollsters asking for their views on the county's education future.

Yesterday, Facing South editor Sue Sturgis received one of the automated poll calls. But the question of who's behind it is a mystery: The number traces back to a line in Conyers, Georgia that doesn't pick up, and at no time during the "robo-poll" was information provided about who was doing the survey.

Such anonymous automated calls are likely in violation of North Carolina consumer protection laws, which require that the "name and contact information" of the person or group making the call be clearly identified.

Last year, a Facing South investigation into an organization that also failed to provide identifying information in their robocalls resulted in North Carolina officials levying a fine of $100,000 against the group, Women's Voices Women Vote.

Hours after receiving the anonymous automated poll, Sturgis filed a complaint online with the N.C. Attorney General's office, which outlines what happened:

On Monday, Dec. 14, at 1:13 p.m., I received an automated telephone call that was an opinion survey on the Wake County Public Schools' contested diversity policy. I was asked a series of about a dozen questions about whether I supported children being sent to the closest neighborhood school or to more distant but more diverse schools. I was also asked personal information such as my age, gender and political party affiliation. The call came to my home phone number [...] At no time during the call was the organization behind the poll identified, nor was I given a phone number I could call for more information. I do not have Caller ID so I didn't see what registered on that, but when the call was over I hit *69 to get the number the call came from. It was (678) 253-6210, which apparently is a third-party auto-dialing company based in Europe. My understanding is that under North Carolina law, such phone calls are required to provide identifying information.

A call to 678-253-6210 brings no response. A web search shows that the 678-253-6210 number traces back to Tele-Europe BV, a telemarketing firm based in The Netherlands which has received dozens of online complaints for anonymous robocalls. The call Sturgis received appears to be a Tele-Europe BV phone number originating in Conyers, Ga.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, two organizations are known to have recently conducted surveys about Wake County school issues that have ignited major controversy recently.

One was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina. Public Policy Polling has denied being the source of the calls. The company says that it does all of its calling "in house" from phone machines in its Raleigh, N.C. office.

A staff member of Public Policy Polling played Facing South an audio file of the poll they used in Wake County, which ended with the following identifying information:

"This survey has been conducted by Public Policy Polling. For more information, visit publicpolicypolling.com. Thanks for your participation."

The other organization known to be doing polling in Wake County about school issues is the conservative John W. Pope Civitas Institute. Civitas released the findings of their Wake County poll today, which was conducted in partnership with Insider Advantage -- a polling company based in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Civitas Institute and Insider Advantage have so far not responded to a Facing South request asking if their survey used the 678-253-6210 phone number.

North Carolina General Statute 75-104 outlines clear consumer protections in the state for the use of automated phone calls. According to N.C. statute, "No person may use an automatic dialing and recorded message player to make an unsolicited telephone call" unless they meet a series of conditions.

One of the conditions of such an automated call is that it must clearly identify the source; or as statute N.C.G.S. § 75-104(b)(1)c reads, calls can only be made if:

The person making the call clearly identifies the person's name and contact information and the nature of the unsolicited telephone call.

In spring 2008, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the state would be taking a strong stance against anonymous robocalls after Facing South revealed that the group Women's Voices Women Vote was behind anonymous robocalls made to N.C. voters before the state's 2008 presidential primary. Cooper later announced Women's Voices Women Vote had agreed to a $100,000 fine for the violation.

Originally posted at Facing South.

Comments

I wonder if Pope family funds

will be paying the fines for this illegal telephone marketing activity, though I kind of doubt it. They'll stick the vendor and pretend like they know nothing about the whole ugly mess.

Insider Advantage

looks to be a sleazoid company with the same integrity problems as their clients. From their website:

It’s really as much a matter of who we don’t work for – political candidates, political parties and partisan organizations. This has been a hallmark of our company for years.

I wonder lying has been a hallmark of their company for years as well. Or maybe they're just dumb bells. The idea that Civitas is a non-partisan organization is entirely laughable.