ITHACA, N.Y. — An emergency call box in the College Townhouses apartment building has been intermittently broadcasting messages soliciting donations to a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, confounding residents and the building’s landlord.
The message has been played at least four times, according to Ava Kiss, a Cornell student and resident of the building who recently recorded a video of the message as it played over the emergency system last week. Kiss said she’s heard the message twice since moving in three weeks ago, and friends of hers who also live in the building have heard it on two other occasions.
The message is a fairly standard political robocall for 2020, lasting about 30 seconds, stating that a Trump victory is crucial for the future of the country and taking aim at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. It does not appear to have any Ithaca- or New York-specific messaging in it, and does not provide a call-back number.
“If you can donate up to $5,000 you will know that you have done your part to help support President Trump, our law enforcement and help to take the gavel back from Nancy,” it says, as seen in the video below, courtesy of Kiss. “Help President Trump keep law and order in America and take back the gavel.”
The call offers a free Trump campaign sticker for any donation above $35, and asks for donations up to $5000. The end of the call identifies its distributor as the campaign for the Conservative Majority PAC (political action committee) and claims that it is not endorsed by any candidate. The call could be purely a scam: when contacted by the Ithaca Voice, a representative of the Conservative Majority PAC stated that they are not involved in fundraising for this election and have not fundraised on behalf of Trump. There is another similarly named organization, called the Conservative Majority Fund, which is another PAC but has a far murkier history: the organization has been investigated for accumulating millions of dollars in donations without actually giving them to any candidate, and its treasurer was sentenced to a year in prison earlier this year for making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. There have been no calls for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden broadcast over the phone that Kiss has heard, though she noted that on Thursday afternoon she returned to the building to hear an obvious scam call looking to sell automotive insurance coming through the box.
Patty Hollister, the property manager for the building, which is owned by Novarr-Mackesey Properties, said she was bewildered by why the calls were coming in over the emergency box and had turned it over to her maintenance team to investigate further. She said they had never previously heard of calls coming over the emergency box, which is located right outside the elevators and is commonly used in apartment buildings as a quick, accessible way to call 911 and alert authorities in the case of an emergency.
“I don’t have any idea,” Hollister said. “It’s certainly not something we did or any of the tenants did. […] It’s very bizarre.”
Hollister went on to call it a “fluke,” and that Novarr-Mackesey is trying to figure out what’s going on as much as the concerned tenants are.
There is a phone line associated with the emergency box, Hollister said, so that it can connect to emergency services, but the box is not supposed to accept incoming calls. A representative for Alpha Communications, who produce the boxes, said the company does not control communications that are broadcast over its devices once they are installed. He said occasionally radio stations would be accidentally broadcast over the boxes if certain frequencies matched up, but he had never seen campaign calls come over the system.
Kiss said hearing the call blaring over the speaker the first time was unnerving, and particularly now that it has persisted.
“When I first heard the voice coming from the hallway I was so confused, then when I saw it was from the 911 call box, I was even more lost,” she said. “It felt like I was living one of those dystopian novels where the government sends out propaganda through all possible channels. I am nervous to see the results actions like these might have on the 2020 election.”