On the first of October, Shell Wheeler of Hennepin County got a text on his cellphone.
“Pres. Trump here,” it read. “I want to see YOU Thursday, Oct. 10th at 7PM CDT at a HISTORIC rally in Minneapolis, MN.” It sent him a link to claim some “free” tickets and RSVP, which led him straight to Trump’s campaign page.
Connor Olson got the same message two days later. And a few weeks after that, Dan Pederson got a massage that read, “Enough hearings. Enough Investigations. Let Rep. [Angie] Craig know you stand with President Trump right now.” Both of them live in Ramsey County.
None of the recipients remember signing up for these texts. They’re all Democrats who have never donated to Trump or attended any of his previous events. That’s why they filed a class action lawsuit.
They’re accusing the campaign of spamming their phones in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. They’re seeking up to $1,500 in damages for each text message, which the complaint says were “distracting and aggravating” as well as a quantifiable “waste” of time, data, and battery life.
That’s chump change to Trump, but the complaint is hoping for a class number “in the tens of thousands,” which could ramp those damages up to millions.
We wouldn’t blame you for getting a touch of déjà vu. This has happened before. Back in 2016, the Trump campaign got slapped by a class-action suit filed from Joshua Thorne of Illinois, claiming “thousands of wireless telephone numbers” had been getting unsolicited texts inviting them to “Make America Great Again.”
“It was a mass, unsolicited communication of promotional messages that the plaintiffs didn’t consent to receive,” lawyer Joseph Siprut told USA Today. “How the Trump campaign went about getting their list of numbers we don’t know yet, but they don’t appear to have done it correctly and legally.”
That case ended with a whimper rather than a bang. The plaintiffs filed for voluntary dismissal in January of 2017. A Politico report surmised Trump’s campaign had quietly settled with two Chicago-area plaintiffs, pointing to $200,000 in campaign money being paid to the Locke Lord law firm shortly before the case was dropped.
At the time, legal experts agreed it was at least worth a try. Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told USA Today class action lawsuits under the 1991 law are successful roughly 60 percent of the time.
Unless you signed up for it, almost any robocall or text you get from a business or a campaign is illegal. Big names like the Trump campaign make interesting case studies, but the reality is we are constantly inundated by messages like these—which federal and state regulators have been trying and failing to stop. In 2018, Minnesotans got pegged with 45 million of them—double the number from the previous year.