Political consultant behind AI-generated fake Biden robocalls in New Hampshire posts bail on first 6 of 26 criminal charges

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at a campaign event in Wilmington, DE | Source: Joe Biden

After producing and transmitting a fake Biden robocall to thousands of voters in New Hampshire, the sources behind the calls face severe legal action and various penalties. In early June, he posted bail on the first 6 of 26 criminal charges

Key Players

Steve Kramer, a political consultant, confirmed he was behind the fake robocalls purporting to be from President Joe Biden, after being confronted with evidence. Campaign finance records show he has significant experience with the practice. He previously did ballot access work for Rep. Dean Phillips’ (D-Minn.) unsuccessful 2024 presidential campaign and worked for dozens of other campaigns over 20 years, including Kanye West’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Lingo Telecom and Life Corporation are both Texas companies believed to have been involved in transmitting the AI-generated New Hampshire robocalls.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), formed through the Communications Act of 1934, is a U.S. government agency that regulates interstate and international communications.

Further Details

On Jan. 21, 2024, a robocall was sent to approximately 5,000 to 25,000 New Hampshire voters, in which an AI-generated voice of President Joe Biden was used to tell voters not to cast their ballot in the state’s presidential primary on Jan. 23.

The message said, “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. … Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” The message also began with Biden’s characteristic phrase, “What a bunch of malarkey.” The caller ID falsely appeared as though Kathy Sullivan, the treasurer of a Biden-aligned political committee and former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, had sent out the message. Sullivan stated she viewed the act as an attack on democracy.

The next day, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office announced an investigation into the calls. “These messages appear to be an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters,” the office stated

State and federal law enforcement officials closely scrutinized the robocall scheme, which may have breached both state voter suppression and federal telecommunication laws. Possible federal violations relate to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Truth in Caller ID Act, and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.

The calls reinforced “a national concern about the effect of artificial intelligence on campaigns,” David Scanlan, the New Hampshire secretary of state, said

The Biden campaign asserted that the calls were part of a larger disinformation campaign that undermines the American democratic process.  Experts like David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, described the robocalls as a “canary in the coalmine (sic) for what we’re going to see” regarding misinformation in the 2024 election.

“It could very well be that this wasn’t designed to help the campaign so much or to hurt President Biden, but to be one of the first shots in 2024 by some actors, whether they be foreign or domestic, to just get us to generally distrust our overall election system,” Becker said. “Those who are pushing disinformation, whether they use AI or not, have an easier job than those who are pushing accurate information.”


Source of the robocalls discovered

On Feb. 23, several news outlets reported that Kramer had commissioned the AI robocalls. 

In an interview days later, he confirmed that he had paid a New Orleans street magician and self-described “digital nomad artist” $150 to craft the recorded message with AI. The magician, Paul Carpenter, who is a world record holder in fork bending and straitjacket escapes, told NBC News, “I was in a situation where someone offered me some money to do something, and I did it. There was no malicious intent. I didn’t know how it was going to be distributed.” He expressed regret for his involvement in the scheme.

After the press revealed Kramer as the source, Phillips tweeted, “I’m disgusted that a consultant hired to assist my campaign w/ballot access is alleged to have faked a robocall impersonating Joe Biden. While I don’t know the person, such behavior is despicable and I trust will be investigated by authorities.”

In response to the backlash, Kramer said, “Maybe I’m a villain today, but I think in the end we get a better country and better democracy because of what I’ve done, deliberately.” 

Kramer maintained that he only carried out the scheme to encourage more regulations on AI deepfakes. He also likened himself to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, as he warned others of an imminent threat.

Separately, Lingo Telecom halted service to Life Corporation upon notification of the investigation, saying, “Upon receiving an inquiry on this matter, Lingo acted immediately by conducting an investigation into the calls at issue in order to aid in the Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force’s efforts.” 

The FCC said it may block Lingo’s phone traffic if further suspicious or illegal calls persist.

Kramer faces lawsuits over actions, FCC imposes regulations and punishments

On March 14, the League of Women Voters filed a federal lawsuit against Kramer, Lingo Telecom, and Life Corporation, alleging violations of both state and federal laws. The suit requests that the court impose fines and prevent the defendants from carrying out such AI-generated robocalls without permission from those being impersonated.

“Regardless of the motivation, the intent here was to suppress the vote and to threaten and coerce voters into not voting out of fear that they might lose their right to vote. That’s why we’re bringing this case,” Mark Herring, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

While bipartisan efforts in Congress to regulate the use of AI in political campaigns have not materialized, the FCC outlawed robocalls that use AI-generated voices following the New Hampshire primary disruption.

In May 2024, the FCC fined Kramer $6 million for violations of federal caller ID law in “scam calls he set up to defraud voters.” The FCC also fined Lingo Telecom $2 million, though both Kramer and the telecom company can attempt to settle the claims or negotiate the penalties. Separately, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office indicted Kramer on 26 counts — 13 felony counts of voter suppression and 13 misdemeanor counts of candidate impersonation.

Kramer posts bail on first 6 of 26 criminal charges

On June 6, Kramer made his first court appearance in the New Hampshire Superior Court in Laconia, where Brendan O’Donnell, the assistant attorney general, successfully argued that Kramer should be ordered to post $10,000 cash bail. 

O’Donnell asserted that $10,000 was necessary to ensure that Kramer returned to court, highlighting that the defendant traveled frequently and had homes in multiple states. 

Tom Reid, Kramer’s attorney, attempted to argue for personal recognizance bail and insisted that Kramer was not a flight risk. 

As of June 25, 2024, there were no further developments.