Telephone calls also tend to be more personal and according to public relations people, the staff in politicians offices often keep a tally of calls in favour of and opposed to particular bills. “Some even get callers’ names and addresses and add them to their database.”
Companies such as Optima Direct, have sophisticated telephone communication equipment that enables them to redirect calls directly to politicians. Employees of Optima Direct contact potential supporters by telephone, talk to them, and suggest they talk to their representative. If they agree they are connected straight through before they change their mind. In this way politicians can be flooded with calls from their local constituents on an issue and get the impressions that these calls are manifestations of a vast ground swell of opinion out there on that issue. Such calls can be spaced out through the day and each week to further increase the realism of the groundswell.
This telephone connection technique (patch-through) has also been used in conjunction with talk back radio shows to give the impression of mass opposition to government reforms. For example, a conservative radio host such as Rush Limbaugh, whose show is broadcast to 20 million people via 650 stations across the USA, will argue against health reforms and work people up about them, then a commercial during the next break, paid for by the health insurance industry, will give listeners a free phone number to call for more information. These calls will be put through to a telemarketer who will talk to the callers and then put them through to their representative in Congress.
Similar techniques have been used against environmental reforms and regulations and in fact a “massive phone patch campaign was credited with defeating the corporate average fuel economy standards provision of the energy bill in the Senate in 1992.”
Television advertisements have been used in a similar way. A free call number is given in the ad which can generate thousands of callers who are recruited to lobby their local politicians. The advertisements are carefully targeted to reach those most likely to do this, by showing them on news and public affairs programmes on particular cable channels and CNN rather than in prime time on entertainment channels.