In a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC proposed a $5,134,500 fine against lobbyists John Burkman and Jacob Alexander Wohl, and J.M. Burkman & Associates LLC, Burkman’s political consulting firm. The Commission says the men apparently made 1,141 unlawful robocalls to wireless phones without prior consent, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The Enforcement Bureau found that the calls were apparently pre-recorded and made to voters’ wireless phones.
In most cases, the TCPA prohibits making pre-recorded voice calls to wireless phones without the consent of those receiving the calls – regardless of the content. The robocalls in this case, made on August 26 and September 14, 2020, used messages telling potential voters that, if they vote by mail, their “personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.”
The Commission began its investigation following consumer complaints and concerns raised by a non-profit organization. The Enforcement Bureau worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to identify two dialing service providers that confirmed the robocall campaigns and identified the clients who hired them for this service. The bureau used subpoenaed call records and call recordings to determine the calls apparently went to wireless phones and the message was pre-recorded.
Consumers told the agency about the calls and confirmed they had not provided prior consent. Subpoenas produced email exchanges between the dialing service vendors and Wohl and Burkman about the call campaigns – including choosing which zip codes to target and “the tape we want to go out.”
The calls identified Wohl and Burkman by name and used Burkman’s wireless phone number as the caller ID. Wohl and Burkman also both admitted under oath to their involvement in the creation and distribution of the robocalls, according to the FCC.
The parties will be able to respond to the NAL, and the Commission will consider their evidence and legal arguments before acting further to resolve the case.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency is stepping up its efforts to combat illegal robocalls. “I appreciate the unanimous support of my colleagues in this effort. I also appreciate the work of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for their work with us to gather evidence and build a case. This kind of collaboration is vitally important in our work to combat illegal robocalls and I look forward to future collaboration like this with other law enforcement partners nationwide.”