Dem behind Biden ‘deepfake’ robocalls fined $6m and criminally charged over scheme

A Democratic political consultant accused of using AI technology to create a deepfake of President Joe Biden’s voice and distribute robocalls spreading election misinformation has been hit with 26 criminal charges and a $6m fine.

Steven Kramer, 54, was indicted in New Hampshire on Thursday on charges of felony voter suppression and misdemeanor impersonation of a candidate for his actions in connection to a scheme that sought to stop Democratic voters from casting their ballot in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigators allege that Mr Kramer made a deepfake of Mr Biden’s voice encouraging prospective voters to “save” their vote for the November election and used a voice service provider to transmit them.

The calls “violated the Truth in Caller ID Act by maliciously spoofing the number of a prominent local political consultant,” the FCC said.

The agency said Mr Kramer should be hit with a $6m fine for “apparent spoofing violations” in addition to the charges in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office had been investigating the situation since it received complaints about the calls back in January.

Days later, Attorney General John Formella named two Texas companies as the entities responsible for the calls. 

He alleged Life Corporation created the message while Lingo Telecom provided the service. Both companies were ordered to cooperate with the investigation.

Steven Kramer, a political consultant, is accused of engaging in a voter suppression scheme in New Hampshire (CBS News New York)
Steven Kramer, a political consultant, is accused of engaging in a voter suppression scheme in New Hampshire (CBS News New York)

Mr Kramer’s alleged involvement in the scheme became known in February, when a Louisiana-based magician publicly claimed Mr Kramer paid him to create the AI-generated Mr Biden voice.

The magician told NBC News that Mr Kramer, a Democratic consultant who worked on ballot access for former candidate Dean Phillips, hired him to create the deepfake of Mr Biden’s voice.

Mr Kramer later admitted to the news outlet that he commissioned the robocall, saying he did it to bring attention to the danger of AI in politics. He clarified that his actions had nothing to do with Mr Phillips.

“This is a way for me to make a difference, and I have,” he told NBC News. “For $500, I got about $5m worth of action, whether that be media attention or regulatory action.”

Now, the political consultant faces 13 charges of felony voter suppression and 13 charges of misdemeanor impersonation of a candidate in the Granite state.

In a press release statement, Mr Formella said he hoped the law enforcement action “sends a strong deterrent signal to anyone who might consider interfering with elections, whether through the use of artificial intelligence or otherwise.”