The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has imposed a hefty fine of $5,134,500 against John M. Burkman, Jacob Alexander Wohl, and J.M. Burkman & Associates LLC for engaging in illegal robocalling practices.
The FCC’s decision, reached unanimously, comes after the parties failed to provide sufficient evidence or convince the Commission to dismiss the proposed fine.
The robocalls in question targeted black people. The calls were made on August 26 and September 14, 2020, where potential voters in predominantly Black communities were informed that their personal information would be shared with law enforcement agencies and credit card companies if they voted by mail. These automated messages were attributed to a group called “Project-1599” which specifically identified Burkman and Wohl by name.
The two attempted to shift the blame to the dialing companies they had hired for the robocalls. However, their own emails contradicted this claim, revealing their active involvement in directing the campaign, including specifying target zip codes and pricing details.
The FCC has consistently held that liability for illegal robocalls is determined by examining the situation’s entire context. Burkman and Wohl have already pleaded guilty to one count of telecommunications fraud and have been sentenced to community service, which involves registering voters in marginalized and low-income communities for 500 hours.
Another argument presented by the parties was that political robocalls are exempt from the restrictions outlined in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Nevertheless, the FCC reiterated that the political nature does not absolve callers from adhering to Commission rules and regulations.
“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 US communications networks,” said FCC Enforcement Chief Loyaan A. Egal.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau conducted an extensive investigation into the robocalling campaign. The probe revealed that the calls were prerecorded and made to wireless phones without obtaining the required prior consent.
The robocalls were sent to 85,000, but the fine is for what FCC investigators identified as 1,141 calls made to wireless telephones without the recipients’ prior consent. 788 wireless calls were made on August 26, and 353 on September 14, 2020.
According to the forfeiture order, the recorded call, voiced by a Black voice actress, stated the following message:
“Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl. Mail-in voting sounds great, but 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 CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay safe and beware of vote by mail.”
Should Burkman and Wohl fail to pay the fine, the FCC said that it will involve the Department of Justice to make the collection.
Information for this story was found via FCC, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.