Sleazy Campaign Phone Calls

Presidential campaigns, voters upset about misleading calls (Detroit Free Press)

Some voters on Monday complained of getting misleading automated phone calls over the weekend telling them either that their polling place had changed or that a vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was a vote to legalize gay marriage. The messages – known as robo calls – were placed in heavily Democratic cities of Detroit, Flint and Pontiac and the Democratic-leaning city of Grand Rapids. “When you vote this Tuesday, remember to legalize gay marriage by supporting John Kerry,†the call said. “It’s what we all want. It’s a basic Democratic principle.â€

Kerry opposes same sex marriage. Earlier this year, Kerry spoke against a proposal to amend the federal constitutional to ban same sex marriage, saying the issue was divisive and should be left up to states. He supports civil unions for gay or lesbian couples.

Voters Complain About Misleading Calls (AP)

Some Michigan voters have received phone calls falsely claiming that Sen. John Kerry would make gay marriage legal. In New Jersey, some voters have heard a man claiming to be former Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf backing the Democrat. Republicans and Democrats were furious Monday about the blatantly false, 11th-hour political calls to voters and demanded an end to the messages.

Schwarzkopf has endorsed Bush, but in a recording of a phone call played for The Associated Press, a man identifying himself as the Persian Gulf War general says, “In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush, but this year I’m voting for John Kerry. … John Kerry has a real plan to make our military stronger and to go after terrorists wherever they hide. We need a vote for change, vote for John Kerry.” A voice says the message was paid for by the Democratic National Committee. In a statement from the Bush campaign, Schwarzkopf said the DNC was making fraudulent phone calls claiming that he had endorsed Kerry, and “nothing could be further from the truth, and I demand that they stop immediately.

Such tactics have long been used but that doesn’t make them less despicable. My guess is that both sets of calls were done by independent groups without coordination with the campaigns.

One could at least argue that the “Kerry supports gay marriage” calls are true in the same sense that Kerry’s oft-repeated charge that “Bush is bringing back the draft” is true. Kerry opposes a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman and, presumably, judges appointed by Kerry would be more likely to legalize gay marriage by judicial fiat. But lies that have the hint of truth are still lies.

Update (0859): Dan Spencer, reflecting on the Schwarzkoft call, notes that,

This type of dirty trick is truly despicable as there is no time to even try to undo the damage it could do to the Bush campaign in a Florida, which Zogby’s latest Battle Ground Poll found to be tied

Certainly true.

Update (0941): The veracity of the Schwarzkoft claim has been called into question by one of my commenters. GoogleNews has dozens of stories on this, including statements from Schwarzkoft denouncing the calls:

Schwarzkopf: Fraudulent DNC calls must end (UPI)

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Monday demanded the Democratic National Committee stop telling voters he endorsed John Kerry for president. “The Democratic National Committee is making fraudulent phone calls claiming that I have endorsed Sen. Kerry,” Schwarzkopf said. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and I demand that they stop immediately.” An audio copy of the call, given to UPI with a copy of a statement from Schwarzkopf, says it was “paid for by the Democratic National Committee.”

Presumably, the tape exists and the calls are being made. Atrios has a report that the DNC is claiming that it’s a faked tape. This will sort itself out, although I’m a bit skeptical since the mainstream press is still running with the story as if it’s legit and they’re hardly known to be in the tank for the RNC. Dan Spencer is also trying to check it out.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    James your dishonesty is absolutely amazing. Just how do you confuse General Tony McPeak and General Schwarzkoft?

    Here is the text of the actual phone message:

    “Hi, I’m General Tony McPeak and as Chief of the air force during the first Gulf War, I worked closely with Colin Powell and Norm Schwarzkopf. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. This year I’m voting for John Kerry. George Bush took his eye off the ball and the war on terror and took us into a poorly planned war in Iraq, letting Al Qaeda, the people responsible for September 11th attack on us, regroup. John Kerry has a real plan to make the military stronger and to go after the terrorists wherever they hide. On November 2 we need to vote for change, a vote for John Kerry.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Ken: This is an AP story that has also been reported by NPR. I’ve linked and quoted from the story.

  3. ken says:

    Here BTW is what Drudge says happened. (via Atrios)

    “In 11th Hour Gambit, RNC Tries Hoodwinking Press: Splices DNC Call and Makes False Accusations
    Washington DC – Today, the Republican National Committee tried to falsely accuse the Democratic National Committee of claiming the endorsement of General Schwarzkopf. In fact, the RNC spliced a DNC recorded telephone call by General Merrill “Tony” McPeak, urging voters to vote for John Kerry, and attempted to peddle the doctored audio file to the press.

    In response, DNC Communications Director Jano Cabrera issued the following statement:

    “This is a desperate, pathetic, 11th hour dirty trick by the Republicans. In an effort to gin up a last minute media controversy and smear the Democrats, the Republicans intentionally spliced a recorded call by Four Star General ‘Tony’ McPeak and tried to peddle it to the press. This type of dishonesty is a fitting end to George W. Bush’s failed Presidency, a Presidency that unfortunately for the American people, was also defined by deceit and deception.” “

  4. ken says:

    James, it looks like you fell for the Repuglican smear. Or are you part of it?