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Robocalls to voters before 2020 election result in $5 million fine

The Federal Communications Commission hit conservative provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman with the fine over claims targeting voters in several states.
Jack Burkman, left, and Jacob Wohl speak with reporters in Rosslyn, Virginia.
Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl speak with reporters in Rosslyn, Va., on Nov. 1, 2018.John Middlebrook / AP file

The Federal Communications Commission announced this week that it will serve a $5.1 million fine against conservative activists Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl and J.M. Burkman & Associates over their role in making 1,141 unlawful robocalls before the 2020 election. 

The FCC said the robocalls were made from Aug. 26 to Sept. 14, 2020, in New York, Ohio, Michigan and other states, according to state prosecutors, who said the scheme was an attempt to suppress the Black vote in the run-up to the presidential election.

The calls identified Burkman and Wohl, and they told potential voters 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.” 

Burkman and Wohl, who have been involved in a number of attention-grabbing plans involving opponents of former President Donald Trump, have since pleaded guilty to one count of telecommunications fraud. They were sentenced to community service that entails registering voters in minority and low-income communities, according to the FCC.

“This penalty emphasizes the seriousness with which we take our obligations to protect American consumers, and in this instance American voters, from being targeted through the clear and illegal misuse of U.S. communications networks,” FCC enforcement chief Loyaan A. Egal said in a news release. “We commend our law enforcement partners for bringing Burkman and Wohl to justice for their actions, and we will continue our efforts to make it clear that there are significant consequences for engaging in this type of conduct.” 

The FCC unanimously agreed to impose the fine, which, at the time it was proposed, was the largest it had ever proposed for a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

A detailed investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found that the robocalls to consumers’ wireless phones were “pre-recorded” and conducted without “required prior consent.”

In response to the FCC’s proposed fine back in 2021, Burkman and Wohl argued that the dialing companies they hired to make the calls were responsible for alleged violations, and they argued that the political robocalls were exempt from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act restrictions.