GOP ad firm defends anti-Obama texts as protected speech

The Republican marketing firm that bombarded people's cellphones with unsolicited anti-Obama text messages this week is undeterred by criticism of the practice, claiming it is protected by its right to free speech. 

Gabriel Joseph, president of Virginia-based ccAdvertising, told The Hill on Friday that he believes the text messages are an effective campaign tactic and he is open to sending more of them before the election on Tuesday. 

"The fact that some people are bothered by this doesn't offend me at all," Joseph said. "It means what we're doing is working. It means it's effective." 

Joseph said he sent the messages on behalf of a client, but he declined to name the client or disclose how many messages he sent. 

Many people in the Washington, D.C., metro area received the messages, but Joseph wouldn't say whether he targeted a particular region. 

He said he obtained the phone numbers from publicly available records, that his firm is "scrupulous" in following the law and that he was only exercising his right to free speech. 

"We live in a country called America. We don't live in Russia or China or Iran or Syria where they restrict free speech," Joseph said. 

The text messages, sent on Tuesday night, covered a variety of topics, including gay rights, abortion and Medicare, and reached people who had never asked to receive them. 

"Obama supports homosexuality and its radical social agenda. Say No to Obama on Nov 6!" one message read. 

"The average American pays at least $2,000 more in taxes than 4 years ago. STOP OBAMA!" read another. 

Jonathan Weisman, a reporter for The New York Times, tweeted that his 13-year-old daughter received a text reading: "Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions. Obama is just wrong." 

Federal Communications Commission regulations and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibit unsolicited auto-dialed text messages. 

The law allows for a $16,000 fine for each illegal message. The rules for text-message spam are stricter than email spam because text messages are more invasive and can result in extra charges for consumers who do not have unlimited texting on their cellphone plans. 

ccAdvertising sent the messages from websites rather than phone numbers. 

The FCC is considering a petition that would clarify that the law covers Web-to-phone messages in addition to phone-to-phone messages. 

The onslaught of political text messages sparked outrage on Twitter and other social media sites on Tuesday night, as people complained about the unusual campaign tactic. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, sent a letter to the FCC calling for an investigation into the messages, which it called "blatant" violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. 

"The TCPA and other laws were created precisely to protect consumers from scammers who send fraudulent messages while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity," the Human Rights Campaign wrote, calling for "swift and forceful action" against ccAdvertising. 

GoDaddy, a Web registrar, initially suspended the websites that ccAdvertising used to send the messages, citing spam and abuse. 

But Joseph said he has been in contact with GoDaddy and the accounts are no longer suspended. 

Joseph claimed that people opted in to receiving political communications when they registered to vote. 

He argued that because many people have abandoned landline phones for cellphones, text messages are one of the most effective ways to communicate with voters. He said he has been thrilled with the reaction to his messages. 

"You win elections when your opponents react to what you do," he said. 

He argued that liberal groups have the same right to send unsolicited text messages and that they would be smart to do so. 

"No, I'm not ashamed of it, and I don't shirk away from it," Joseph said. "The articles that have been written have helped my business."