Dakin dials up effort to curb the use of robocalls

Shaun Dakin calls it his "15 minutes of fame," but his foresight in creating a nonprofit last year devoted to adding automated political phone calls to the national, voluntary "Do Not Call" registry is generating media attention lasting quite a bit longer than that.

Shaun Dakin calls it his “15 minutes of fame,” but his foresight in creating a nonprofit last year devoted to adding automated political phone calls to the national, voluntary “Do Not Call” registry is generating media attention lasting quite a bit longer than that.

“Robocalls,” as those recorded phone calls from political candidates are popularly known, have been one of the hottest issues of the presidential campaign in the final weeks of the election. And Dakin's interviews with CNN, MSNBC, USA Today, NPR, and other news outlets indicate he has become a go-to guy for commentary on them.

As the CEO and founder of the nonprofit National Political Do Not Call Registry, Dakin for the past 18 months has been something of a one-man band advocating changes to the national Do Not Call Registry, which among other things exempts charities, survey researchers, and – yes – political campaigns.

Ultimately, the group aims to win passage of Congressional legislation that would at least limit the number of robocalls candidates can make. That may not be easy, given that the ever-falling cost of robocalls always makes them especially tempting for candidates lagging their opponents in funding, Dakin explains. Thus, the nonprofit stresses that it doesn't seek to ban robocalls outright, but simply to let people opt out of them.

“Banning any... political speech is not going to fly,” he notes. “The Supreme Court would throw up on it.”

But support for a voluntary registry is potentially very broad, Dakin argues. There were over 7,000 political offices being campaigned for this year. While political junkies may find robocalls amusing to get, most voters despise them, Dakin says.

“The vast majority of campaigns are run on a shoestring budget,” he says. “Most are just not getting a lot of volunteers. So [they] increasingly... turn to robocalls. If you live in a battleground state, you're getting 10 to 15 calls a day. For most people, the calls are driving them crazy.”

As a former volunteer for Democratic party phone banks, Dakin learned firsthand about the typical reaction to unsolicited political pitches, including many responses not fit for print. Some people actually dread robocalls, Dakin says, including senior citizens who fear the calls will tie up their phone during a medical emergency, parents upset at calls waking up sleeping babies, and night-shift workers who need to sleep during the day.

For now, visitors to the group's Web site, stoppoliticalcalls.org, can sign up for a voluntary registry that only seven political campaigns so far have agreed to honor, including a couple of incumbent members of Congress. The group is not self-supporting – “I have a very understanding wife,” notes Dakin – but he hopes to pick up funding from another nonprofit to sustain the advocacy effort.

Michael Carter, a politician who supports the effort, says judicious, sparing use of robocalls helped him nearly win the Democratic primary for the 2008 Missouri lieutenant governor race, particularly because his campaign always emphasized its willingness to discontinue calls to anyone who objected. But one question underpinning the ultimate success of the registry is how representative of the general population are the most vocal objectors to robocalls, he notes.

“My thought is that if [Dakin's efforts] get enough of a head of steam, maybe lawmakers will start taking action,” Carter says.

2007-present

CEO and founder, National Political Do Not Call Registry

2006-present

Product management consultant, TDD Consulting

2006-2007

Product manager, The Motley Fool

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