By Pat Doyle
Recorded political phone calls -- dinner stoppers in many homes during election season -- can be curbed by Minnesota and other states, according to one draft of an opinion this week by the Federal Election Commission.
But in another draft, the agency declined to issue an opinion, saying any dispute over restrictions on automated phone calls should be left to the courts.
The agency was reacting to a bid by the American Future Fund, a conservative group associated with Republican causes, to override portions of a 1987 Minnesota law that curb "robocalls." The group argued that the restrictions in Minnesota and other states infringe on federal laws overseeing campaign finance.
Minnesota requires campaigns to use live operators to introduce automated calls and get the consent of the person answering the phone to play them -- conditions that raise the cost and discourage the practice. Ten states have such restrictions and seven followed Minnesota's lead this fall in challenging the bid by American Future Fund.
"It is not the role of the Federal Election Commission to substitute its judgment for that of state legislatures or courts," the FEC wrote in its first draft of an advisory opinion that recognized state power to restrict the calls.
But in the second draft, the agency declined to issue an opinion, meaning American Future Fund could go to court over the dispute without having a negative administrative ruling on the record.
The agency's commissioners are expected to adopt a final advisory opinion in January.
American Future Fund is devoting much of its efforts to criticizing the health care proposals of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.