Lawsuit Accuses Romney Supporters of Illegal Robocalls During Election

PHOTO: Romney-Ryan campaign signTom Pennington/Getty Images
A Romney-Ryan campaign sign stands outside a polling location in Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 6, 2012.

A lawsuit seeking federal class-action status in Colorado is accusing an Arizona non-profit of conducting illegal robocalls to campaign for Mitt Romney during the presidential election.

Marlo Edholm, 34, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Denver on Monday against Americans for Responsible Leadership, a non-profit group in Arizona.

Edholm, a recent nursing school graduate from Denver, said she received at least five illegal robocalls to her cell phone from the group.

She said the calls are a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, according to the lawsuit. The law prohibits unsolicited robocalls to cell phones, which can cost the telephone call recipient money for the minutes used.

Read more: FTC Enlists Consumers to Help Stop 'Robocalls'

Americans for Responsible Leadership spent millions of dollars last year supporting Republican candidates, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney and opposing ballot initiatives in Arizona.

The group's stated purpose on its website is to "promote the general welfare of the citizens of the United States of America by educating the public about concepts that advance government accountability, transparency, ethics and related public policy issues."

In January, ProPublica said it obtained Americans for Responsible Leadership's application to the IRS for tax-exempt status, which stated that it would not "spend any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any Federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization."

Multiple calls to the three men who registered Americans for Responsible Leadership with the Internal Revenue Service were not returned.

"The annoyance is getting calls that you haven't asked to receive and you're getting charged for them," said Joseph Mellon, attorney for Edholm.

On Sept. 11, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission published an enforcement advisory in light of the 2012 election season. The advisory reminded campaigns and consumers that pre-recorded voice messages and auto-dialed calls to cell phones and other mobile services, including paging services, are prohibited. The two exceptions are if the calls are made for emergency purposes or with prior express consent.

Mellon said he believes groups representing either party may have used robocalling to campaign during the last election.

"This is not a partisan issue," he said.

He added that his client was registered to vote, but he is not sure how she may have been targeted to receive a call.

"She doesn't fit the profile of a politically active type of person," he said.

According to the court case, the calls Edholm received were said to be from two people, "Olivia" and "Pam," who stated they represented Americans for Responsible Leadership.

On Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, she received this pre-recorded message on her cell phone, according to the court document:

"Hello, my name Olivia and I'm a volunteer with Americans for Responsible Leadership. I'm calling because I'm worried about our future. Twenty-three million Americans are out of work, we're sixteen trillion dollars in debt, and we borrow four billion dollars a day. It's disappointing, but President Obama's policies haven't worked. That's why I encourage you to vote for Mitt Romney. He has real world business experience and knows how to fix the economy. He can break through the partisan gridlock in Washington because as Governor of Massachusetts, he worked with a legislature that was 90 percent Democrat to reduce the state's debt. Thank you very much for your time. Paid for by Americans for Responsible Leadership and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

Mellon said he hopes to learn from the discovery process how many calls were made to cell phones.

If the court finds the group conducted illegal robocalls, the lawsuit states that Edholm "and the other members of the proposed class are entitled to statutory damages of $500.00 for each unlawful robocall and an injunction prohibiting ARL from engaging in similar conduct in the future."