LANSING, Mich. - Two conservative hoaxers face a record $5.1 million fine for allegedly making illegal robocalls to wireless phones without the owners’ consent in the 2020 election.
The Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday that the proposed fine for Jacob Wohl, Jack Burkman and Burkman’s lobbying firm would be the largest ever for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
The men already face criminal charges in multiple states over allegedly organizing 85,000 robocalls that falsely warned people in predominantly Black areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan that information gleaned from mail-in ballots could lead to their arrest, debt collection, and forced vaccination.
The FCC said federal law prohibits making prerecorded calls to cellphones without the permission of those receiving the calls. The agency, which determined 1,141 calls went to mobile phones on Aug. 26 and Sept. 14, proposed a $4,500 fine for each one.
Regulators launched their investigation following consumer complaints and concerns raised by a national civil rights group, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The FCC said it worked with the Ohio attorney general’s office to obtain subpoenas from two dialing service providers showing emails from Burkman and Wohl, including ZIP codes to target and "the tape we want to go out." They will have an opportunity to respond before the commission takes action.
In emails to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Wohl and Burkman said the Biden administration is looking to distract from the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan and other woes.
"We will not be deterred or discouraged," Wohl said. Burkman called the proposed fine "sad."
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office is prosecuting the men, said "this massive fine properly reflects the seriousness of the allegations these two political operatives face."
The FCC said it was the first time it issued a notice of a fine without first issuing a citation, citing a 2019 change in the law.