The Ben Hall campaign sent out this press release on Tuesday:
The Ben Hall for Mayor campaign has launched a new initiative to reach Houston voters and communicate with them on a platform where they already spend a lot of their time – their cell phones. The Hall campaign has partnered with Politikast, a mobile outreach firm that operated President Barack Obama’s successful 2012 voter text program that contacted 12 million voters, including 2 million in Florida, a state the President carried by 73,000 votes.
The campaign will send the following text to over 100,000 Houston voters with the below message and a link to the recent ad video, “Dream”:
“Hi, I’m Ben Hall for mayor. I believe Houston’s the greatest city, but our challenges require leadership with vision. Visit www.bh4m.co/hallforall.”
“As the fourth largest city in the nation, Houston has nearly a million registered voters who all access information at different times and on various platforms. We are committed to making it as easy as possible for voters to learn about Ben’s vision, to engage with our campaign, and to take action to get new leadership elected this November,” said Julia Smekalina, press secretary for the Ben Hall campaign. “The text message campaign is just one part of our aggressive voter outreach. We will continue communicating with all voters on every platform that they engage on to ensure that every Houstonian is fully informed before casting their vote this election.”
One person really didn’t appreciate the effort.
A local man is suing Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall, accusing his campaign of sending illegal text messages.
Joe Shields says on Friday two of his family cell phones received the message, which included a link to Hall’s web site and instructions for opting out of further texts.
After calling Hall’s campaign – and Politikast, the company that sent out the text messages – Shields says he was unsatisfied with their responses.
So on Monday, he filed a federal law suit against Hall. Shields’ suit claims he never consented to receiving such texts, which would make the messages he did receive unlawful.
“You’re not required to opt out, they’re required to have you opt in,” explained the plaintiff. “Prior express consent of the called party. And they didn’t have that.”
Joe Shields’ lawsuit is seeking damages of $3000, the maximum allowable for two text messages.
“[Hall] is definitely benefiting from an illegal text message that was made to my cell number and my wife’s cell number,” Shields said. “Probably a bunch of other people too.”
According to Ben Hall’s campaign, the texts have gone out to more than 100,000 cell phones with just one complaint: Joe Shields. And Shields has turned suing telemarketers, spammers and robo-texters into something of a cottage industry.
“We see this technology as an exciting approach and we will continue to use it because voters are receptive,” said Hall’s press secretary, Julia Smekalina. “We will ensure that every message is legally sound.”
Politikast CEO Robert Culhane told FOX 26 News he could provide proof that Shields did indeed opt in. But the company was unable to supply that documentation by our broadcast deadline.
Filing a federal lawsuit strikes me as being a wee bit over the top, response-wise. Bitching about it on Facebook is a lot more proportional to the crime, if one sees this as an offense. Be that as it may, I’m curious to know who else out there has received one of these texts. I haven’t, but then I’ve been pretty circumspect about giving out my cell number to entities that might be compiling a list of them for later sale to vendors like Politikast. And yes, I’m quite certain that while some people will have opted in for this, most of the cell numbers will have come from purchased lists. I doubt that any local campaign has the resources to get 100,000 people to voluntarily provide their cell numbers for something like this. The Chron story confirms my suspicion.
Federal rules prohibit unsolicited, prerecorded sales calls to landline phones, but exempt political calls of that type, known as “robocalls.” The rules for cellphones are more restrictive: To receive cellphone calls or text messages a person must give “express prior consent” or the situation must be an emergency, said Richard Alderman, dean of the University of Houston Law Center.
Politikast gathers some of its own user information and buys the rest from third parties such as Netflix and FreeCreditReport.com, according to an online presentation about its work. Alderman said he would be more comfortable if voters opted in directly with a campaign – texting a number announced at a rally, or entering their cell number on a campaign website, as often is done – rather than having the “opt in” come from an unrelated website.
“To legally send you text messages based on your consent, they must prove that you expressly agreed to receive the messages,” Alderman said. “I do not believe a broad consent satisfies the statutory requirement that the person ‘expressly agree.’”
Smekalina said Politikast used the same data-purchasing technique to send 2 million text messages for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in Florida.
The Obama campaign, you may recall, collected a lot of cell numbers by promising to announce his choice for VP via text to his supporters before the news broke anywhere else. It didn’t quite work out that way, but the allure of being the first to know was surely a powerful incentive to give up that bit of information about yourself. I’m not sure how much value there is in texting people that had not had any prior contact with your campaign, and I wonder how many of those 100,000 recipients actually live in Houston – remember, all of unincorporated Harris County and several small cities like West U have “Houston” in their mailing addresses. It’s an interesting idea, and I agree that campaigns should take advantage of current technology and communication methods, I just don’t know if this is the right way to do it. Did you get a text from the Hall campaign, and if so would you say you opted in for it? Leave a comment and let us know.