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Hodes: GOP's taped calls to NH voters break FCC rule

CONCORD, N.H. --Four years after an illegal phone-jamming scheme disabled Democrats' get-out-the-vote lines on Election Day, Democrats say the Republicans are up to their dirty tricks again.

Republicans say their automated phone calls to voters this year comply with "all applicable laws," although the National Republican Campaign Committee apparently agreed to stop placing the calls to numbers on the federal Do-Not-Call list.

The committee is using taped calls to reach voters in the state's 2nd Congressional District race, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, a Republican, faces a tough reelection battle against Democrat Paul Hodes.

One of the taped calls features a woman who opens by saying "Hello. I'm calling with information about Paul Hodes." She goes on to criticize his position on taxes and ends by saying the call was paid for by the NRCC and was not coordinated with the Bass campaign, according to a tape recording released by the state Democratic Party.

Hodes spokesman Reid Cherlin said Monday the calls intentionally mislead voters and violate a Federal Communications Commission rule, which states that automated calls must, "at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call."

Stating the name of the sponsor at the beginning "would have interfered with the true purpose of the calls, which was to make you think that Paul Hodes was harassing you," Cherlin said.

"I'm sure they think if there are legal problems with it, they'll sort it out after the election," he said. "This is the same kind of dirty tricks we've seen up here in the last couple of election cycles, but voters are getting tired of it."

Alex Burgos, spokesman for the NRCC, said the calls comply with all federal laws, but declined to comment on the placement of the sponsor message.

The state attorney general's office said the RNCC agreed to stop calling homes on the federal Do-Not-Call registry after Deputy Attorney General Bud Fitch spoke with the committee's general counsel in Washington on Sunday.

State law says political campaigns may contact people on the Do-Not-Call list, but cannot use automated recordings. Until Sunday afternoon, the RNCC had maintained that its calls on behalf of a candidate for federal office were not subject to the state law, but apparently backed off.

Burgos would not confirm the agreement to stop targeting numbers on the Do-Not-Call list.

"Our calls will continue independently of U.S. Rep. Bass's campaign and in accordance with all applicable laws," he said.

The National Republican Campaign Committee is using "robo calls" in at least 53 competitive House races nationwide. The calls have sparked a handful of complaints to the FCC. An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment Monday on the New Hampshire dispute.

Bass released a statement Sunday asking all outside groups to stop the calls and said he was pleased that the NRCC had agreed. But Cherlin said Bass did nothing to stop the national Republican group from harassing voters until some complained.

The attorney general's office began investigating after a Hillsborough woman, Martha Child, filed a complaint accusing the committee of violating the state law. Child, an independent who generally votes for Democrats, said she received five calls from the NRCC in two days even though she was on the federal Do-Not-Call list.

The latest WMUR-TV and University of New Hampshire daily tracking poll indicates the race is too close to call, with 48 percent of those surveyed supporting Hodes, 39 percent supporting Bass, 3 percent supporting Libertarian Ken Blevins and 10 percent undecided. The telephone poll of 312 likely voters in the 2nd District was conducted Nov. 2-5 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

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