Phone plugged in

Robocalls were sent across the city this week saying Mayor Lauren Poe and the Gainesville City Commission want to increase GRU rates and debt.

The messages were sent on Monday and Wednesday, which were about a week before the March 19 election where residents will vote for mayor and District 4 commissioner. Poe is seeking his second term as mayor and is running against Marlon Bruce, Jennifer Reid and Jenn Powell.

The city commission’s administrative phone received 40 to 50 calls for about two hours Monday, said Shelby Taylor, a city spokesperson. Calls were also made Wednesday for over an hour.

It is unknown where the robocalls originated. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office has no information on these calls or their history, said TJ Pyche, the election office spokesperson, in an email.

Poe said that dark money was used to pay for these robocalls. Dark money is untraceable, unreported money spent during campaigns, and it is used to try to influence city’s elections, he said.

These types of anonymous robocalls are new in city elections and didn’t give residents helpful voting information, he said.

“It’s a little concerning that’s happening in local races,” Poe said. “I don’t believe that really helps the democratic process.”

In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission added to its Telephone Consumer Protection Act that robocallers must have written consent from consumers before robocalls are made. The act also requires telemarketers to provide an opt-out mechanism, according to the commission.

The robocalls made this week did not follow the protection act.

Treasurers for all four mayoral candidates said all donations have been reported to the supervisor of elections and denied dark money usage.

“It is disingenuous to call it dark money,” said Marlon Bruce, who is his own treasurer. “I have no problem with them. I don’t disagree with the calls’ content.”

Taylor Girtman is a third-year journalism student from Fort Myers, Florida. She enjoys drinking strong coffee and spending time with her 10-year-old dachshund.