FCC proposes fining conspiracists $5.1M for voter suppression robocalls

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The FCC is proposing to fine conservative conspiracists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman more than $5.1 million for allegedly coordinating more than 1,000 unlawful robocalls aimed at swaying last year's presidential election — a proposed punishment that would be the largest in FCC history under anti-robocall laws.

Robocalls targeting the 2020 election: The apparent violations were part of Wohl and Burkman’s voter suppression activities ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, aimed at discouraging voting by mail.

According to an FCC document laying out the proposed penalty, the unlawful robocalls included recorded messages telling people that voting by mail would mean their “personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had charged Wohl and Burkman for activities tied to such voter suppression robocalls back in October, citing robocalls originating with the men affecting not only her state but also New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. New York officials similarly sought to take action earlier this year.

Details of the FCC crackdown: As part of its probe, FCC enforcement staff worked with the Ohio state attorney general’s office and traced some of the dialing service providers that helped connect the robocalls. Using subpoenas, they identified Burkman and Wohl as the individuals who had the calls placed. They also unearthed emails showing the men’s involvement with such companies.

The FCC spoke with consumers who confirmed they had not consented to receiving such robocalls, as required under law.

The FCC is proposing to make Burkman & Associates, an affiliated lobbying and consulting firm, liable for the activities in addition to the two men individually.

In an attached statement, acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel noted “unanimous” support among her commissioner colleagues for the action. “Across the board, the FCC is stepping up its efforts to combat illegal robocalls,” she said.

What’s next: The proposed fine is not final, and Burkman and Wohl will have a chance to refute the proposed FCC punishment. The FCC noted Burkman and Wohl had previously admitted to the robocall campaign under oath.

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