(Molly Bruns, Headline USA) An investigation into artificial-intelligence-generated phone calls impersonating President Joe Biden and telling Democrats to avoid voting in last month’s New Hampshire primary revealed the origin of the calls to be a Texas telecom company.
According toe federal election records, the company’s owner had previously made large donations to a political-action committee supporting the 2008 presidential campaign of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella said he opened the joint investigation with the Federal Communications Commission and the Industry Traceback Group, according to NBC News.
The deep-fake “robocalls,” which targeted thousands of registered Democrats in New Hampshire on the weekend before its Jan. 23 primary, encouraged voters to “save [their] vote[s] for the November election” since Biden was not officially on the ballot.
“Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again,” the message said. “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”
New Hampshire officials had scoffed at the notion of moving their primary back—in violation of state law—despite the Democratic National Committee’s desire to lead off with South Carolina to avoid the risk of Biden losing.
Although dark-money donors spent millions of dollars on a write-in campaign to ensure Biden’s victory, the DNC had signaled that it would deny New Hampshire’s delegates from casting votes during the August convention in Chicago. It has subsequently backpedaled on the threat, however, in light of Biden’s win.
While the robocalls had little impact on the turnout, authorities planned to make an example of the unprecedented violations of New Hampshire’s voter-suppression laws and telecom statutes in order to deter similar behavior before the general election.
“Calls using AI with something as deceptive as trying to clone the voice of the president of the United States—we haven’t seen something like that before, so close to an election with such a blatant attempt to mislead voters,” Formella said.
“We don’t want it to be the first of many,” he added. “We want this to be an example for us to point to, but also an enforcement example for anyone out there who would consider doing this.”
Formella announced that law enforcement would pursue both civil and criminal action against Life Corporation, a marketing company owned by Dallas-based entrepreneur Walter Monk.
Investigators were unclear of Monk’s motivations and did not elaborate on the reasoning for the calls, but said they were confident Life Corporation was the source.
The FCC sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company and a second group, known as Lingo Telecom, which transmitted the calls.
If the accused are charged as guilty, they could face up to seven years in prison and thousands in fines.
Online records of Monk were sparse. However, the Federal Elections Commission showed that he and his wife both made $5,000 donations to the PLR PAC, which spent nearly all of the $65,673 it raised on independent expenditures for McCain’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama.
McCain ultimately lost the race and died of a brain tumor in 2018, having squandered much of his influence on the GOP in a high-profile feud with President Donald Trump.