RoboGate: Democrats May Be Behind Illegal 'Rush' Robocalls

RoboGate: Democrats May Be Behind Illegal 'Rush' Robocalls has learned that phone numbers allegedly used to make potentially millions of illegal robocalls on behalf of a fictitious group called “The Women of the 99 Percent” last week were likely obtained from one of a few private vendors previously used by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and other Democratic Party affiliates–though at least one such vendor denies it.

The calls attempted to link Republican members of Congress to Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments about contraceptive activist Sandra Fluke. They appeared to be illegal under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 because they did not identify a valid return phone number, and did not indicate that they had been paid for by a legitimate, registered organization. According to one source: “With these calls, the *69 option comes back to a dead number….People started getting these calls at 4 a.m., which also [allegedy] breaks Telecom rules.”

The scandal was first exposed on March 9 by the Daily Mail (UK), but a investigation has gone further, determining that those calls were made to targeted Congressional districts listed on the DCCC’s online ‘Red to Blue‘ list, a collection of choice races in which the party intends to concentrate its money and time.

The automated calls targeted several Republicans whose districts are listed on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list, including: Rep. Brian Bilbray (CA), Rep. Mike Coffman (CO), Rep. Robert Dold (IL), Rep. Bobby Schilling (IL), Rep. Joe Walsh (IL), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Rep. Chip Cravaack (MN), and Rep. Sean Duffy (WI). The calls also targeted Rep. Tim Johnson (IL), who appears on the neighboring “Emerging Races” list beside the “Red to Blue” list.

Sources familiar with the robocalls provided with information about the extent and sophistication of the calls, which in turn suggests the data for the calls might have come from one of only a few firms with access to such data. 

One is a Washington, D.C. firm known as Catalist, which is widely known as a major source for voter data for left-wing organizations, and had previously worked with the DCCC and other Democratic fundraising organizations.

Catalist spokesperson Debra DeShong Reed told that the DCCC is no longer a client: “We don’t discuss those kinds of details when it comes to our clients, but I can say that they are not a client at this time, nor have they been this year.”

When Reed was asked during a telephone interview why the Catalist client page still names the DCCC, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), and the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA), she replied, “They are there simply because they have been clients in the past.”

Reed was adamant that the voter list for the “Rush” calls could not have come from Catalist, and emphasized that the Democratic Party has gradually created its own internal lists over the years. She added that there are several other vendors that could have access to the same information.

“Catalist did not make these calls and they are not currently utilizing our data. There are several vendors from around the country who do what we do. The DNC [Democratic National Committee] has lists….Catalist has the most robust list because we have many progressive clients who utilize our list and there’s a couple of different proprietary reasons people use us. The RNC has their own vendors, too.”

Reed also says it would practically impossible for any former clients to retain data obtained through Catalist. She confirmed that the company does not have any Republican or Libertarian clients.

One other possible source for the data is a firm called NGP VAN, which is used by many “progressive” organizations and Democratic Party branches, and builds software databases for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. In 2006, when Howard Dean chaired the Democratic National Committee (DNC), he commissioned the firm to create the “VoteBuilder” database software interface that the DNC and Obama for America (OFA) both use. 

NGP VAN can be hired by other progressive organizations to build databases, but “VoteBuilder” is proprietary to the DNC and the Obama campaign. NGP VAN loads voter records, which Catalist maintains, into the VoteBuilder databases.

Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for the DNC, was unaware of the “Rush” robocall scandal when contacted by on March 12, and was unavailable for comment thereafter.

Whether through Catalist, or NGP VAN, or someone else, the scope and sophistication of the illegal calls suggests that they almost certainly came from a national list compiled by a sophisticated data source organization connected to the Democratic Party apparatus. One source noted: “It’s not a bunch of Occupy women sitting in a room together. With robocalls, you do it through a call center. It [the “Rush” campaign] was computer generated.” 

In addition, sources estimate, the cost of such a campaign could run into several hundreds of thousands of dollars, to be paid to the telephone vendor that made the calls and the data source that supplied the numbers. If, in fact, the “Rush” robocalls were funded by a legitimate group, the information will eventually be made available through the FEC. If not, it may take a formal investigation or prosecution to discover who paid for the campaign.

Thus far, sources indicate, at least one state may be considering criminal investigation and prosecution.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.