Pre-election robocalls puzzle City Council candidates

November 3, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City Council candidates want to know who paid for robocalls — pre-recorded, automated phone messages — made on behalf of contenders Nathan Perea and Joan Probala a week before Election Day.Perea and Probala disavowed knowledge of the calls or the entity behind them. No evidence ties the robocalls to the Perea or Probala campaigns. The message encouraged voters to cast ballots for Perea and Probala.

“I would like you to vote today for Joan Probala and Nathan Perea for the Issaquah City Council, and mail your ballot today,” a woman said in the message. Issaquah voters said they received the call early last week.

Perea faced Tola Marts in the contest for the Position 7 seat. Probala was vying against incumbent Maureen McCarry in the Position 5 race. Both races were to be decided by voters Nov. 3.

The candidates raised concerns about the robocalls because the messages do not identify the entity behind the message, or the woman in the call.

“I’ve worked hard and I want to feel good about what I’ve done,” Probala said. “Now, there’s a cloud hanging over Nathan and I.”

Perea and Probala said they first heard about the calls after supporters contacted them and noted how the recorded message includes mispronunciations of their surnames.

“I learned about it the same way a lot of people did,” Perea said.

The most recent expenditure filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission show Perea and Probala did not pay for the robocalls.

Realtors Quality of Life PAC, a real estate organization based in Olympia, has spent money to support Probala, but the contributions were used for mailers and newspaper ads, according to campaign filings. Another political entity, the Affordable Housing Council — the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties — spent $1,600 each on the Perea and Probala campaigns to call voters, though it was unclear whether the Affordable Housing Council calls were the unattributed robocalls.

Master Builders Association spokeswoman Allison Butcher could not be reached for comment.

Neither state law nor federal law prohibits prerecorded political calls.

Tony Perkins, lead political finance specialist with the PDC, said the Issaquah calls puzzled the organization.

“I don’t know who made the calls, frankly,” Perkins said.

State election rules encourage — but do not require — sponsorship information if a candidate’s campaign pays for robocalls.

If robocalls are made on behalf of a candidate and unaffiliated with his or her campaign, state election rules require the calls to include a rider indicating the entity behind the ad, as well as the city and state in which the organization is based. If a political committee deploys robocalls on behalf of a candidate, the message must include the rider and — if contributors gave more than $700 to the committee — the top five donors to the organization in the year before the call was produced.

Penalties for the entity behind the calls would depend on the track record of the organization. If the entity had past election infractions, stiffer penalties would be likely, Perkins said. But if the entity had no prior election infractions, the PDC would likely cite the organization.

“Whoever’s doing it should identify themselves in the call or to the PDC,” Marts said.

Perea said robocalls did not jibe with the way he conducted his City Council bid.

“I have put a lot of energy and effort into making my campaign about personal outreach, knocking on doors, shaking hands and personally attending as many functions as I can,” he wrote in an e-mail. “When I learned that someone had taken it upon themselves to reach out to voters in a very impersonal way like a robo-dial, I was frustrated. I would never suggest, support or pay for that type of service. I hope Issaquah voters know that robo-dial methods of outreach do not match my personality or campaign style.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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