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FCC looks to fine conservative activists $5 million for false mail voting robocalls

The calls lied about mail voting in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Jack Burkman, a lawyer and Republican operative, and Jacob Wohl, speak during a news conference to address their allegations against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in Arlington, Virginia
Jack Burkman, left, a lawyer and Republican political operative, and Jacob Wohl, an internet political activist and supporter of then-President Donald Trump, speak during a news conference to address their allegations against special counsel Robert Mueller in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 1, 2018.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $5.1 million fine against conservative activists Jacob Wohl and John Burkman and J.M. Burkman & Associates for making 1,141 unlawful robocalls that made false claims about mail voting, the agency said Tuesday.

“Did you know that if you vote by mail, your 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 call said, before also erroneously claiming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might use such data to enforce mandatory vaccinations.

Thousands of voters received such calls in New York, Ohio and Michigan, according to state prosecutors, who say it was an attempt to suppress Black voters. The activists face criminal charges for their role in spreading the disinformation, and New York Attorney General Letitia James is attempting to force the men to pay up to $2.7 million in penalties for the calls.

The FCC said the calls in question were made between Aug. 26 and Sept. 14, 2020, to 1,141 wireless cellphone users who had not expressly consented to the calls, which is a violation of federal law.

This is the largest robocall fine ever proposed by the FCC for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the agency said. Wohl and Burkman identified themselves on the call, used Burkman’s cellphone number as caller ID and admitted under oath that they created the calls.

The men are notorious for several failed schemes to smear the political rivals of former President Donald Trump.

Many states expanded mail voting to keep voters safe during a deadly pandemic, but Trump and other conservatives baselessly condemned it as ripe for widespread fraud and discouraged it.

CORRECTION (Aug. 26, 2021, 4:32 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the company the FCC included in its fine proposal. It is J.M. Burkman & Associates, not J.M. Burkman & Associations.