Robocalls called out

Hussain supporters to file complaint against Capitol Region Progress


Residents gathered at the federal courthouse in downtown Lansing Tuesday to protest robocalls and fliers aimed at political candidates in two City Council race. (From left): David Wombolt, Kathy Miles, Loretta Stanaway, Elaine Eomboldt, Melissa Quon-Huber, Ken Jones, Phil Damico and June Campanile.
Courtesy photo

TUESDAY, Oct. 6 — Southwest Lansing resident Elaine Womboldt said she is “troubled” by the negative mailers and robocalls landing in her mailbox and voicemail. And too, she said the group sponsoring them, Capitol Region Progress, broke federal rules governing robocalls. She’s filing a formal complaint over it.

“This is not what the issue of campaigning should be,” she said. “It’s not ethical. It should bring the issue out of the shadows.”

She is alleging that Capitol Region Progress failed to properly identify itself in robocalls or provide a telephone number. A September 2012 memo from the Federal Communications Commission laid out the rules requiring a robocall to identify the responsible party at the beginning of the call and provide a contact telephone number.

Womboldt organized a press conference outside the federal building in downtown Lansing Tuesday to protest the calls and mailers paid for by Capitol Region Progress, a 501(c)4 organization that because of a Supreme Court ruling does not need to report contributors. At least three other residents said they were joining Womboldt in making the complaint to the FCC.

Robocalls have surfaced in both the Third Ward, where newcomer Adam Hussain is challenging two-term incumbent A’Lynne Boles, and the First Ward, where Jody Washington, is seeking re-election against challenger Shelley Mielock Davis. Recordings of the calls show Womboldt is correct that the group does not identify itself at the beginning of the call or provide a contact number, in apparent violation of the FCC rules.

“I want to be able to call them and tell them to stop calling me,” she said. “I hope there groups will be held responsible.”

Womboldt said she does support Hussain in the race for the Third Ward, but her complaint is not politically motivated.

“This issue is not about my support for him,” she said, “this is about ethical and responsible campaigning.”

The group has made waves with a series of mailers as well as the robocalls. The most recent mailers hit both wards.

In the First Ward, Washington is accused of being a “roadblock for progress.”

The mailer alleges that she voted “no on college scholarships for promising young students of color.” City Council minutes show she and Boles cast “no” votes for spending $25 to purchase an advertisement in the souvenir program for a fundraiser held by Delta Sigma Theta sorority. That group raises money to provide $50,000 a year in scholarships every year, according to its website.

The mailer also accuses Washington of opposing Michigan Department of Natural Resources grants to “improve Francis(sic) Park.” Council minutes show that on March 26, 2012, Washington voted against two resolutions to accept grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Both grants — one for $300,000 and another for $45,000 — would be used to improve Frances Park.

The last charge against Washington is that she voted no on a redevelopment plan at the old School for the Blind. Washington and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood cast no votes on that $15 million development project. Washington is quoted in the State Journal in June 2014 as opposing the project because she was concerned about the impact on nearby neighborhoods and security issues. The project included mixed-use apartments for chronically homeless and recovering drug addicts. The company refused to agree to hire a security firm to patrol the property.

Washington refused to comment on the mailer, which she characterized as “disgusting” and “half truths.”

In the Third Ward, Hussain was the target of another mailer. This one accused him of being responsible for $22 million in lost state funding for the Lansing School District. The reasoning? Hussain’s daughter attends Okemos Public Schools and he has been critical of district leadership.

It is unclear where the $22 million figure came from. The state provides about $7,391 per student enrolled in the district. When a parent sends a child to another public school, including charter schools, that money follows the child. In instances where a child attends a private school, as Boles’ daughter does, no school gets the funding for the student.

Hussain has repeatedly explained that he sends his daughter to Okemos due to the “logistical nightmare” of getting her to a Lansing building represents with his wife working in Okemos and he in Waverly Community Schools.

Hussain supporter Ken Jones referred to Hussain’s daughter as the “$22 million girl.”

"If that child is worth $22 million, everyone — including the mayor — should be on their knees begging for that kid to come back," Jones said. "I would be offering to mow the lawn and drive her around."

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who backs Boles and Davis, is believed by some people to be behind Capitol Region Progress. Bernero has not answered questions about his possible role.


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