In the final days before the Nov. 5 election, former East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said last week, “I was getting calls from people saying, ‘You called me.’ ” Mr. Cantwell’s mobile phone “was filling with messages from sources I had not called.”
The mysterious calls people were referring to were robocalls, automated calls made by a computer system that are delivered en masse and automatically play a prerecorded message when the person on the other end answers the phone.
Robocalls are commonly used in political campaigns. But Mr. Cantwell, a Democrat who retired at the end of 2017, had not directed any such effort. Rather, the calls delivered a recorded message from David Gruber, the EH Fusion Party’s candidate for supervisor, asking voters to support that party’s candidates in the election.
“This is David Gruber, East Hampton Reform Democrats and Fusion Party candidate for East Hampton supervisor,” the message began. “I’m calling to remind you that all of the Fusion Party candidates for town office, endorsed by the East Hampton Reform Democrats, are found on the bottom line, the Independence Party line on the ballot. If you share our vision for a socially, environmentally, and economically just and inclusive community, please vote the bottom line on the ballot for the candidates of the East Hampton Reform Democrats and EH Fusion Party.” Formed this year, the EH Fusion Party comprises Democratic, Republican, and unaffiliated candidates who waged an unsuccessful campaign for supervisor, town board, and town trustees. (Another Fusion Party candidate, Justice Lisa R. Rana, who also has Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, and Independence Party backing, holds a narrow lead over her challenger, with absentee ballots yet to be tallied.)
Mr. Cantwell deduced the Fusion Party’s involvement. “They were using my number as the identified number on their robocall,” he said. The recorded message included Mr. Gruber’s mobile phone number, “but the identifying number that went across on people’s phones was my cellphone number,” the former supervisor said.
He sent a text message to Mr. Gruber. “I told him I was displeased that my phone number had been hacked.” Mr. Gruber, he said, apologized and contacted the marketing firm the party had hired to conduct the robocall effort.
In a text message on Election Day, Mr. Gruber told The Star that the company hired to conduct the robocalls, Groundswell Communications of Alexandria, Va., “is still trying to determine where they acquired the caller ID number for my account, which should have been unique to me.” He speculated that Groundswell Communications had previously had the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee as a client, “probably for Larry’s campaign, and confused the accounts. That’s all I know.”
“Other than commissioning the call and recording the message, that was my entire involvement in the mechanics of how it is done. This,” the use of Mr. Cantwell’s number, “was surely not to my advantage in any way.”
Cate Rogers, chairwoman of the Democratic Committee, said yesterday that the committee does not employ Groundswell Communications.
Groundswell Communications lists telecommunications services including automated phone capabilities on its website. “If your message needs to be taken straight to the homes of those you need to reach, we will get it there,” according to the site. “Intensive quality control and a proven record of impeccable customer service produces results for our clients that keep them coming back.”
Mr. Gruber had contacted Alison Andrews, who is listed as a grassroots program manager on the Groundswell Communications website. An email from The Star on Monday was not returned, nor were calls seeking comment on Tuesday and yesterday.