COLUMBIA — The primary season comes to a close today, and in addition to letters in the mail, bumper stickers, yard signs and knocks on doors, candidates have been jockeying for votes using automated phone calls.
What makes this form of campaigning different from television or radio ads is that under current campaign finance laws, candidates are not required to identify themselves. That makes automated phone calls, also known as robo-calls, prime real estate for negative attack ads.
Since late last week, Sam Page, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor, has fielded complaints from residents who have received anonymous robo-calls in the middle of the night imploring them to elect Page. His campaign has denounced the phone calls as "dirty tricks."
But that didn't stop people from being upset, especially those whose phones were ringing at 3 a.m.
"Whenever someone is awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call, especially eight or nine times a night, you can bet it makes them mad," Page said in a telephone interview.
Page said he thinks that incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's campaign is the source of the anonymous calls.
"I am convinced that it is my Republican opponent," Page said.
But Paul Sloca, spokesman for Kinder, said the campaign is not responsible.
"We don't know anything about the robo-calls," Sloca said.
Page said he doesn't believe any of his six Democratic opponents have the campaign resources to make robo-calls. But candidate Michael Carter did so earlier in the summer. But he denied having anything to do with the nighttime calls about Page.
"I stopped robo-calling so that people could remember my name but forget how they knew it," Carter said.
Carter's campaign made between 10 and 15 sets of robo-calls between March and July. His focus for the campaign is to get his name in people's heads.
Although Page has received both good and bad publicity about the calls, Carter said he's a bit envious of all the attention Page is receiving.
"I would love for myself to get the attention that he's been getting from the phone calls and ads," Carter said. "I wouldn't be surprised if Kinder was behind it, but I also wouldn't be surprised if Page has manufactured some of this himself."
Chris Kelly, a Democrat running for the 24th District seat against Republican incumbent Ed Robb, called the Missourian on Monday to say that anonymous robo-calls are terrible and that if he is elected, he would propose legislation to make them illegal "right out of the box" in the first session of Congress.
"If a candidate doesn't have the energy to make his or her own phone calls, they should just stay home," Kelly said. "Anonymous attack robo-calls are despicable."
While the robo-calls cannot be outlawed altogether because of free-speech rights, Kelly said, he believes candidates should have to identify themselves in the first sentence of the call.
"These anonymous calls allow people to be gratuitously nasty," Kelly said. "People don't like it, and they should not be subjected to it."
Kelly's Republican opponent agrees and says that the anonymous robo-calls are "awful" and "unfortunate," but that those attributed to candidates still have a place in the election process.
"There's really nothing wrong with robo-calls, and there is a place for them in elections," Robb said. "I know that people don't like them, but in this day in age when people are working, they can come home and have a reminder to vote. It still serves a purpose."