FCC Complaint filed over anonymous political attack

May 24th, 2015

FCC Complaint filed over anonymous political attack

Source: Niagara Gazette

Complaint filed in Niagara Falls over anonymous political robocall

By Mark Scheer | Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 11:14 am

Former GOP Chairman Bob Krause and Destino filed a formal complaint with the FCC last month. They requested that the agency look into the source of the call and the funding behind it. Krause described the prerecorded message as the latest in a recurring pattern of similar anonymous political robocalls dating back several years.

“I said ‘this is ridiculous.’ They don’t say who’s doing it or anything else like that,” Krause said, referring to the robocall in question.

The prerecorded call, placed to area voters in April, questioned Destino’s interest in a $62,000-per-year director of information management systems position inside city hall.

The telephone message, placed by an unidentified caller, said:

“Niagara Falls has major problems — crumbling roads, no jobs and even residents who can’t simply turn on a faucet and get water. Our city is going to pieces. But rather than fixing the problems, Mayor Dyster is wasting $62,000 on a patronage position in city government that he had just eliminated a few months ago. Worse yet, according to the Buffalo News, failed politician Johnny Destino appears to be in line for the cushy job. That’s right, Dyster would rather take care of a crony like Destino than make sure people have water in their houses.”

The message encouraged listeners to call the mayor’s office to make sure Dyster spends tax dollars on “fixing problems, not for friends like Johnny Destino.”

In response to questions from the Niagara Gazette, a spokesperson for the Federal Communications Commission said current federal rules require callers to be identified at the beginning of a prerecorded message and that a telephone number for the caller should be provided during or after the message. The rules apply to all prerecorded calls, regardless of content and would include political calls, according to the FCC representative. (See sidebar.)

Krause believes the Destino robocall was in violation of FCC standards, adding that it is only the latest in a line of similar calls made without attribution to area voters for several years now.

Krause said he could not be certain who was responsible for the call or any of the others, which is why he and Destino sought help from the FCC in getting to the source.

“They have attacked other people in the same way,” Krause said. “Whoever they feel they can abuse, they do.”

The Destino robocall followed allegations made publicly by the Falls Republican Committee that the MIS position inside city hall was political in nature. Falls Republicans suggested the job was created by Dyster’s administration specifically for Destino as a favor to the former Republican turned Democrat who took on current state Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, in an unsuccessful senatorial bid last year.

Dyster has insisted that there was no favoritism displayed during the interview process for the MIS director job, noting that several candidates were considered, including Destino. Last week, Dyster’s administration announced the appointment of Joseph Morock Jr. as the city’s new director of management information services.

Current Niagara Falls Republican Party Chairman Vince Sandonato said his committee “had nothing to do” with the Destino robocall. Sandonato acknowledged that the committee has conducted robocalls in the past, adding that he believes they serve a purpose in allowing candidates or committees to provide voters with information on issues of importance.

He insisted all prerecorded calls coordinated by his committee have included references to them being funded by either himself as party chairman or by the Falls Republican party as a whole. He characterized the filing of a complaint with the FCC by Krause and Destino as an attempt to “score cheap political points” in an election year.

“It’s just finger pointing at this point,” Sandonato said.

Destino received confirmation on April 20 that his complaint had been received by the FCC.

The response indicates that the “complaint provides the commission with valuable information” that is used to “spot trends and practices that warrant investigation and enforcement action.” It also indicates that the FCC does not provide individuals who file complaints with any additional updates when it comes to information about specific complaints.

Prerecorded calls continue to be commonly used by candidates and campaign committees not just in Niagara County, but across the country. They are generally inexpensive, often costing just pennies per call.

Locally, robocalls that are political nature have been something of a mixed bag - with some including attribution and call-back numbers and others lacking in either one or both areas.

Dyster said criticism comes with the territory when you are running for office, however he believes those who are being critical should be expected to play by the rules.

“It’s obvious to me that there’s been a lot of money flowing around Western New York politics, and Niagara County politics in particular, that never gets attributed to a source,” Dyster said.

“I think these people are bold and arrogant and act with impunity as if they can’t be punished and I hope they are wrong,” he added.

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