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Atlanta firm to pay fine for robocalls: Phone calls made on behalf of ND Farm Bureau pertaining to ag commissioner’s race

BISMARCK — An Atlanta-based company that made robocalls this week on behalf of the North Dakota Farm Bureau to gauge support for three candidates in the race for state agriculture commissioner has agreed to pay a $500 fine for violating a state law prohibiting such calls, the attorney general’s office says.

The company, Concentric Direct LLC, immediately accepted responsibility and indicated it wasn’t aware of the law that requires robocalls to be preceded by a live operator who must obtain consent from the person called, said Parrell Grossman, director of the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division.

Pete Hanebutt, director of public policy for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said the group hired Concentric Direct to conduct a poll “to test each of the candidates and the issues in the ag commissioner race.”

Hanebutt said he told Concentric Direct “to do their due diligence to find out what the laws were here.”

“We found out that they weren’t doing what they should have done, so we told them to discontinue that” poll, he said, adding there was “no malice intended toward the public.”

The North Dakota Farm Bureau is supporting rural Warwick nurse and farmer Judy Estenson in her bid to beat out current Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring for the Republican Party’s endorsement on Sunday at the GOP state convention in Minot. The other candidate for the office is Democrat Ryan Taylor, who was endorsed by his party last weekend.

“It is a shame that the vendor that we hired didn’t do things the right way, and we won’t find out the information that we wanted to find out for that ag commissioner race,” Hanebutt said.

Grossman said he first learned about the robocalls when he got a phone call Wednesday morning from someone who had received one. He said he immediately contacted the North Dakota Farm Bureau to make them aware of it and then contacted Concentric Direct.

“The company indicated it was not aware of (the law) and just immediately accepted responsibility, so I have no reason to suspect otherwise,” he said.

The company had made roughly 300 robocalls, Grossman said. Violators can face a fine of up to $2,000 per call.

Concentric Direct agreed to immediately suspend the calls and pay a $500 fine, Grossman said, adding that he hoped to have the settlement agreement finalized by the end of Wednesday.

“This is sort of our standard enforcement action with entities that make calls on behalf of political organizations,” he said.

Messages left at a phone number and email address listed on Concentric Direct’s website were not immediately returned.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.