February 23, 2006
Roboscam: More From SurveyUSA
Another quick update. MP received an email this morning from Jay Leve, president of SurveyUSA regarding the "roboscam" phone calls we have been following. Leve wanted to make it clear that the research conducted by SurveyUSA is entirely legal under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, as his company follows the letter of the law in both properly identifying their calls and providing a number for respondents to use to call back if they wish.
His comments provide some useful background on this emerging story. He includes a link to a complete audio recording of a very similar call captured last July
during the 2004 campaign. He also reports on yet another first person account of one of the recent calls. This one comes from a SurveyUSA employee, no less, who lives in the 7th District of New Jersey District, represented by Republican Mike Furgeson.
The full text of Leve's email appears after the jump.
SurveyUSA wants to make these points:
- SurveyUSA does not know whether calls are being made by Republican, by Democrats, or by both parties. SurveyUSA takes no political side in the story.
- Election lawyer Ezra Reese observes that the calls in question may violate federal law. SurveyUSA wants to put Reese's point in context. Legitimate opinion research, as conducted by SurveyUSA, which a) identifies who is calling and b) in every scenario provides a phone number for the respondent to call us back if he/she has concerns about the research, is not illegal.
- An employee of SurveyUSA, who lives in New Jersey's 7th CD, received the following phone call on his home answering machine or about 7/20/05. To my knowledge, this is the only preserved tape recording of the kind of calls in question. This, then, is the smoking gun:
- It is very important to take apart this phone call into its component pieces.
- This phone call clearly attempts to confuse the recipient into thinking that the call is coming from a polling firm, and specifically my polling firm, SurveyUSA. SurveyUSA is a registered trademark. When SurveyUSA registered the domain www.surveyusa.com back in 1995, we anticipated that others would try to start businesses with confusingly similar names and trade on our reputation. So, just as SurveyUSA registered the ".net" extension and the ".org" extension for SurveyUSA.com, SurveyUSA also registered the domain name www.usasurvey.com (and others similar to it). Therefore, anyone who received this, or any other phone call, from a "USA Survey," and who attempted to locate that organization, would find only my organization, and assume the calls had come from me.
- I do not believe the primary purpose of the call was to harm the reputation of SurveyUSA; I believe that SurveyUSA is just collateral damage in this exchange. Nevertheless, the damage to my firm is real and material, and the damage to all opinion researchers is real and material.
- Next, this phone call, to the vast majority of those who received it, would in fact sound like a poll. It is not a poll. This message was received in its entirety on my employee's home answering machine. Pollsters do not typically interview answering machines. Answering machines can't participate in a poll. Even if the call were not a poll, but (under the guise of being a poll) had as its primary purpose the gathering of respondent data (whether to "harvest" or "enhance" a database), there would have been a pause after Question 1, to allow the respondent to answer. Because there is no pause whatsoever, it is clear that there is no desire on the calling party's end to collect any information. Quite the opposite. The calling party wants to be certain that Q2 gets laid down on the answering machine in its entirety before the answering machine cuts off. For Q2 is the shiv. (Note: I have no knowledge about whether the buried allegation contained within Q2 is true or false or entirely made-up). Separate note, just to be on the record: As soon as this phone call was first brought to my attention, back in July 2005, I immediately called the Chief of Staff for Congressman Ferguson to make certain that he knew that SurveyUSA was not associated in any way with these phone calls.
- Next and more recently: the same SurveyUSA employee, in NJ 7th CD, received another phone call at or about 4:45 pm ET on Saturday 1/28/06. Because the SurveyUSA employee was at home and answered the phone, that call was not preserved on his answering machine and is not tape recorded. However, contemporaneous transcription reveals the following: the call came from "USA Polling." The call asked two questions. Question 1, paraphrased, was "Former Vice President Al Gore has said that President Bush's domestic wiretapping without obtaining warrants is illegal. Do you support President Bush's domestic wiretapping without obtaining warrants?" Yes, press 1. No, press 2. Undecided, press 3. Question 2 paraphrased: "Congressman Mike Ferguson supports President Bush's domestic wiretapping. Knowing that, would you vote to re-elect Congressman Mike Ferguson? Yes, press 1. No press 2. Undecided, press 3. [click].
- SurveyUSA has an acute interest in learning who is trying to pass itself off as SurveyUSA. That is a crime against SurveyUSA.
- SurveyUSA shares a more general concern that phone calls such as these make it increasingly difficult for all legitimate opinion researchers to secure the trust and cooperation of a respondent. That is a crime against us all.
This definitely isn't canvassing then, if they aren't even really recording the answer.
Posted by: Drew Miller | Feb 23, 2006 3:33:02 PM
The anchor link to the Ferguson "poll" recording is bad. There's an extraneous space
Posted by: Nathan | Feb 24, 2006 7:44:06 AM
The link should be fixed -- Thanks Nathan!
Posted by: Mark Blumenthal | Feb 24, 2006 3:51:45 PM
No matter how Jay Leve trys to spin it, his firm is far from being a credible survey firm.
Posted by: One who kNOws | Jan 6, 2008 12:15:35 AM
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