The investigation into the mysterious public polling agency called Independent Voter Research continues. The organization has conducted several robocalls in various states. Some voters have responded with confusion and anger over the volume of calls they receive on a daily basis.
A. Michael Froomkin, professor at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote a post on his blog, Discourse.net, about his experiences with Independent Voter Research. In it, he goes into detail about receiving robocalls from the same phone number every day for over a week. Each time, the female automated voice asked him the same questions.
“What kind of poll calls the same person every day?” Froomkin queried. “Is it some weird new type of tracking poll where they are looking to see if a given fixed population changes its views over time? Some unfathomable scam, looking for old folks to rip off? Some polling outfit ripping off some campaign? Some campaign with more money than sense?”
Several complaints on various online forums have expressed similar frustrations. People have described being called up to three or four times a day from one of the numbers associated with Independent Voter Research. It sounds like what one would expect from debt collectors. Some of the complaints mentioned that once the person finally answered the phone, and took the survey, the calls stopped.
This, however, was not the case for everyone. Mr. Froomkin said he answered the phone every time, took the same short survey, and still received calls from Independent Voter Research. He mentioned calling the 866 contact number provided at the end of the survey twice on two different occasions. He received an automated message both times.
When asked when the calls finally stopped, Mr. Froomkin replied, “I went out of town for a week. My wife hangs up on those things. By the time I came back, they'd given up.”
Mr. Froomkin added that, while his field of expertise is not in election nor campaign finance law, this would not ordinarily be considered to be "actionable fraud" by legal experts if the calls ended up not originating from Independent Voter Research. He said that since there doesn't seem to be an attempt to gain anything of value-- a few minutes of a person's time generally not considered a 'thing of value' --it wouldn't usually qualify as fraud.
Back in February, Rolling Stone uncovered a possible connection between Independent Voter Research and the Mitt Romney campaign. Volunteers for the campaign conducted calls from home using the MyMitt social networking tool. Suspicions were raised when the script given to volunteers was identical to the one used in calls from Independent Voter Research.
Volunteers did not identify who they were in the initial script nor inform likely GOP voters in Michigan that they were calling on behalf of the Romney campaign. However, callers did provide the same 866 contact number given by Independent Voter Research. When asked to comment on it, Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, stated that the wrong file had been “inadvertently uploaded.”
The latest complaints describe a fully automated robocall from Independent Voter Research. The firm's methods have changed to some degree, but voters are just as confused and angry over receiving these cryptic calls. The unknown polling firm has also expanded its outreach. The calls appear to primarily be conducted in campaign battleground states, including Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Laws and statutes regarding solicitation over the phone, especially for campaign and polling purposes, vary from state-to-state. Many states have laws that require the caller to identify themselves and the organization they are with. In Florida, there is a statute that specifically prohibits callers from stating that the call is from an entity that doesn’t exist.
Title IX, Chapter 106.147, paragraph 1(d) of the 2012 Florida Statutes states:
“No telephone call shall state or imply that the caller represents a nonexistent person or organization.”
The willful violation of this provision is considered a first degree misdemeanor. It is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of no more than a year. That being said, it is unlikely anyone will be prosecuted.
No one has been able to confirm the existence of Independent Voter Research. There is very little evidence to support the claim it is a real polling agency. It has no website nor any online presence. The firm's contact information is not listed. The only connection there is to the mysterious organization is an 866 number that only connects callers to an automated message.
Despite the inability to locate Independent Voter Research, no one has been able to conclusively link it to a campaign. The Mitt Romney campaign was contacted for comment, but it has yet to respond. IVN's contributors will keep readers updated on any developments in this story.