Civitas pollster fined $10,000 for breaking NC robo-call law after complaint by Facing South editor

The controversy began in December 2009, when Sue Sturgis received an automated call at her home asking questions about her views on education in Wake County, N.C., the site of bitter controversy over the school system's diversity policy.

But as Facing South reported earlier, the robo-poll message never identified who was calling - an apparent violation of North Carolina consumer protection laws which require that the "name and contact information" of the person or group making an automated call be clearly identified. Calls by Sturgis and Facing South back to the Georgia number, 678-253-6210, brought no response.

Sturgis filed a complaint with the North Carolina Department of Justice in mid-December, 2009, and the case began its long march through the agency.

On May 24, 2011, Sturgis was notified via email that the case had been resolved: Rosetta Stone Communications of Atlanta, GA - the firm hired by the Civitas Institute to conduct the poll in Wake County - had reached a settlement with the state of North Carolina on April 14, 2011, agreeing to pay a $10,000 fine for violating laws governing robo-calls.

The email to Sturgis updating her on the status of the case read in part:

The robo-poll in question was conducted by Rosetta Stone Communications of Atlanta, Ga. on behalf of a Raleigh organization known as The Civitas Institute. The poll would have met an exemption found in the statute banning so-called robo-calls if the recorded messages had simply identified the calling party and provided contact information. Rosetta Stone Communications acknowledged that they were supposed to include such disclosures but failed to do so in the calls in question... They recently signed a settlement agreement with the State of North Carolina requiring them to comply with the statute going forward and pay a civil penalty of $10,000.

North Carolina General Statute 75-104 outlines clear consumer protections in the state for the use of automated phone calls. According to N.C. statute, "No person may use an automatic dialing and recorded message player to make an unsolicited telephone call" unless they meet a series of conditions, including identifying the source.

In spring 2008, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the state would be taking a strong stance against anonymous robo-calls after Facing South revealed that the group Women's Voices Women Vote was behind anonymous calls made to N.C. voters before the state's 2008 presidential primary. Cooper later announced Women's Voices Women Vote had agreed to a $100,000 fine for the violation.

The Civitas poll was notable because of the group's relationship to the Wake County schools controversy. As Facing South has documented, Civitas is almost entirely funded by the family foundation of leading Republican benefactor and retail magnate Art Pope.

Pope, a Wake County resident, has been instrumental in helping elect conservative candidates to the Wake County school board, which voted in 2010 to eliminate the system's policy of striving to preserve economic diversity. Critics including the NAACP contend the change will re-segregate schools by race and class.

The website for Rosetta Stone Communications no longer works; the company is known for conducting polls for Republican candidates and conservative causes.