All five FCC Commissioners on Wednesday approved a nearly $10 million fine for illegal robocalls. The agency said Kenneth Moser made 47,610 unlawful, spoofed robocalls over a two-day period shortly before California’s 2018 primary election.
Moser and his company, Marketing Support Systems, spoofed a competitor’s telephone number when transmitting the pre recorded voice calls that contained false accusations against a candidate for the California State Assembly. The competitor was HomeyTel, which advertises that it provides legal robocalling services to political candidates. As a result of the robocalls, HomeyTel received complaints from consumers who received the calls and a cease-and-desist letter from the candidate.
During the vote, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called what Moser did “really sordid.” A week before the state primary in May 2018, she said, “this robocall campaign featured allegations about sexual assault by a candidate that ultimately resulted in the accuser pleading guilty to making a false report of a crime.”
The agency said the allegations had already been investigated and disproven by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. After receiving a complaint, the California Secretary of State referred the matter to the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau for investigation. Yesterday’s Forfeiture Order follows a Notice of Apparent Liability adopted and announced by the Commission in December 2019.
Rosenworcel said the Moser case isn’t the only calling campaign that needs to be investigated. “Just two weeks ago there were reports that millions of robocalls were also using spoofed numbers to spread misinformation in advance of the November election. This, too, needs attention,” she said. “Because if these calls ran afoul of the tools we have to protect consumers—like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Truth in Caller ID Act, and TRACED Act—this agency needs to act.”
The item passed 5-0; however outgoing Commissioner O’Rielly split his vote, agreeing in part and dissenting in part. He doesn’t believe Moser intended to harm the recipients of his calls. “Rather, [Moser] intended to disseminate negative information about a candidate for political office during a primary election on an anonymous basis, pursuant to his client’s wishes. In other words, he falsified caller ID not to harm the call recipients, but to engage in anonymous speech, a type of interest that the Supreme Court has deemed to be protected under the First Amendment, including in an election context,” O’Rielly said in his formal written statement.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
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