The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed a $5.1 million fine against two right-wing operatives who made robocalls discouraging people from voting in the 2020 presidential election, including some calls that targeted the Black community in an attempt to suppress the Black vote.
In the months leading up to the general election last year, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, conservative conspiracy theorists, made 1,141 illegal calls to cellphones without users’ consent, a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
As the pandemic raged and controversy surrounding mail-in voting continued, calls made on Aug. 26 and Sept. 14 warned voters via a pre-recorded message that if they voted 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 fine against the men’s lobbying firm is the largest TCPA robocall fine ever proposed by the Commission. An investigation showed that Burkman and Wohl had engaged in a email exchange with the dialing service vendors about the calls campaign, including which zip codes that would be targeted.
The calls also identified Burkman and Wohl by name and the two admitted under oath to the creation and distribution of the calls.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office aided in the FCC investigation, said in a Wednesday tweet that Burkman and Wohl “were targeting Black voters in the 2020 election, attempting to suppress the Democratic vote with disinformation.”
In total, about 85,000 calls were made by Burkman and Wohl, including nearly 3,500 answered by residents in Ohio. Yost said last year that areas of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania with a high number of minority residents were targeted.
The two were charged with voter intimidation, conspiracy to intimidate voters, and counts of using a computer in both schemes by the Michigan attorney general then later indicted on charges of bribery and telecommunications fraud in Ohio.
After about 5,500 New Yorkers were also subjected to the calls, Attorney General Letitia Wright was granted the right in May to intervene in a federal lawsuit against the two men.
“Through their use of misleading and targeted robocalls, Wohl and Burkman illegally attempted to discourage Black voters from exercising their fundamental right to vote, in an effort to influence the election for their favored presidential candidate. I look forward to continuing to make our case in this matter, and I remain committed to ensuring that individuals are protected from harassment and intimidation when voting,” Wright said in a statement at the time.
Burkman and Wohl are known for peddling conspiracy theories about Democrats and have been fingered in schemes to invent false sexual assaults allegations against Dr. Anthony Fauci, and former special counsel Robert Mueller, who led the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and obstruction of justice by the Trump administration.
The FCC’s fine proposal is not yet finalized, but once it is, the two men will have the chance to respond.