Conservative Christian Group Sued for Spamming Florida Residents to Support Brett Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh testifying at Senate hearing.
Kavanaugh testifying at Senate hearing. Via C-SPAN
click to enlarge Kavanaugh testifying at Senate hearing. - VIA C-SPAN
Kavanaugh testifying at Senate hearing.
In the weeks leading up to Brett Kavanaugh's October 6 confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (which seems a lifetime ago), a conservative Christian nonprofit organization bombarded Florida residents with text messages urging support for the judge and claiming "a good man is under attack and needs your help," according to a lawsuit filed in Florida's Southern District Court.

The messages from the Faith and Freedom Coalition angered Miami resident Shehan Wijesinha, who pointed out they violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits automatic dialing of people without prior consent. Wijesinha, a registered Democrat, says he has no idea how the Faith and Freedom Coalition even got his number.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Wijesinha was first contacted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition on September 25, when he received an automated text message stating, "This is Ralph Reed. A good man is under attack and needs your help. Call Senator Bill Nelson today and tell him to confirm Brett Kavanaugh." That was followed by a phone number for Nelson. Ralph Reed is the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Georgia that took in about $15 million in contributions and grants in 2016, according to the organization's tax forms.

Two days later, Wijesinha got another unwanted text from the FFC. A third followed on September 29. Wijesinha's lawyer, Ignacio Hiraldo, says the unsolicited texts invaded Wijesinha's privacy and disrupted his daily life.

"Upon information and belief," Hiraldo wrote, the Faith and Freedom Coalition "has placed automated text messages to cellular telephone numbers belonging to thousands of consumers throughout the United States without their prior express consent."

The TCPA prohibits mass automated text messages like these without the recipient's consent. If the Faith and Freedom Coalition is found liable for the texts under the TCPA, they could face fines as high as $1,500 per text.

TCPA lawsuits involving political campaigns are common. Campaigns for both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump were hit with TCPA lawsuits for spam messages.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition was founded in 2009, aims to mobilize conservative Christian voters, and opposes abortion, medical marijuana, and same-sex marriage. The coalition claims to have over 1.8 million members, according to its website, which has a section devoted entirely to "President Donald J. Trump's Remarkable Record of Achievement."

“Judge Brett Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified jurists ever nominated and confirmed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court – a man of outstanding character and integrity who will apply the law as written and not legislate from the bench – and millions of conservatives across the country are overjoyed today with President Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, and all of the Senators who stood strong and voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh,” raved Faith and Freedom's executive director Tim Head.

Faith and Freedom’s campaign supporting Kavanaugh, who was accused of attempting to rape a teenage girl at a high school party, included nearly 5 million mailers, 500,000-plus text messages, 1 million emails, and over 85,000 phone calls.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition has not yet responded to the lawsuit. Wijesinha's lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor