Commissioner Responds to Concerns Over Political Robotexts
Texts without Attribution Violate Montana Law
The Commissioner of Political Practice’s (COPP) office has received an increasing number of complaints about unsolicited political robotexts over the past few days.
“We’ve received one formal complaint and numerous other complaints about campaign-related text messages,” said Commissioner Jeff Mangan. “Complaints have come in about federal, state, and local political texts and concern the campaign communications of candidates, political parties, and committees.”
Montana law requires that all election communications, electioneering communications, and independent expenditures include an attribution disclosing who the communication is funded by, and contact information for the source (Mont. Code Ann. § 13-35-225). The Commissioner will enforce the requirements of the attribution laws on all political communications including text messages.
Candidates and committees should be aware of a separate federal law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which regulates telephone communications. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces the TCPA, and Montanans can file a complaint with the FCC if they believe they have received a phone call or text message which violates the TCPA.
“While robotexts may be a potential violation under federal law, the Montana COPP has no jurisdiction,” said Mangan. “We will, however, enforce attribution requirements on all election and electioneering communications that concern a state or local candidate or issue on Montana’s November ballot, including texts. This means that committees and candidates must comply with Montana’s attribution statute and include the sender’s mailing information and funding source. Any political robotext out of compliance violates Montana law.”
Further guidance on the TCPA by the FCC states:
Restrictions on political campaign-related robocalls or robotexts vary based upon whether a call is delivered to a landline telephone, a cell phone, or certain protected telephone lines such as emergency or toll-free lines, or lines serving hospitals or similar facilities.
Political campaign-related autodialed or prerecorded voice calls, including autodialed live calls, prerecorded voice messages, and text messages, are:
§ Not allowed to cell phones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the called party's prior express consent.
§ Not allowed to protected phone lines such as emergency or toll-free lines, or lines serving hospitals or similar facilities, unless made with the called party's prior express consent.
§ Allowed when made to landline telephones, even without prior express consent.
Robotexts - text messages generated through autodialing - are considered a type of call and fall under all robocall rules. As text messages generally go to mobile phones, they require the called party's prior express consent if they are generated using autodialing.
The mission of the Commissioner of Political Practices is to monitor and enforce political practices for the transparency of all Montanans. Additional information about campaign finance disclosure requirements are available on the Commissioner of Political Practices’ website.