When Walter Monk was first building out his telecom empire, he began with Singles Telephone Company, which was pretty much what it sounds like—a hotline for those looking for love to connect by phone. Decades later, in the sort of twist we’ve come to expect in today’s bizarre political climate, his company, based in Arlington, just east of Fort Worth, is being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission over allegations that it made thousands of illegal robocalls. Those calls reportedly used AI voice technology to impersonate President Biden and had him urging New Hampshire Democrats not to vote in the upcoming primary election. 

Thousands of New Hampshire Democrats received the fraudulent robocalls ahead of their January 23 primaries. “Republicans have been trying to push nonpartisan and Democratic voters to participate in their primary,” said the AI version of Biden in his mid-Atlantic accent. “What a bunch of malarkey,” it added, using one of the elderly president’s distinctive word choices. 

The voice continued, “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help in electing Democrats up and down the ticket. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”

It was the first significant report of AI-generated interference in this election cycle, and one that Mekela Panditharatne, an attorney in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice—a think tank within New York University’s law school—called “deeply troubling,” even relative to other efforts to discourage Democrats from casting ballots in recent years. “It is something that we need to be very concerned about, particularly because it could result in voter suppression,” Panditharatne said. 

While two Texas companies—Life Corporation, which is owned by Monk, and another provider called Lingo Telecom—have been traced to the calls, the FCC and New Hampshire’s attorney general’s office are still investigating whether other persons or entities were involved in paying for them. 

Monk is not exactly the sort of guy you’d peg for a political agitator. A member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Fort Worth, he’s a serial company founder with a dizzying scope of work. “I really like starting businesses,” Monk wrote on his personal LinkedIn page. “You might say I am obsessed (or is it possessed?) by this activity.” By his own account, some of the businesses he’s dabbled in include “gas stations, lobster trapping, a chain of nightclubs and bars, selling bait, a beef jerky plant, a dating service, credit card processing center, condom machine routes, and selling pool cues.” 

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Life Corporation, the telecom company he founded in the late eighties, which now exists under a parent company called Voice Ventures Inc., has cycled through offbeat iterations over the years, including one called Psychic Inroads and another trade name Monk created in 1997 called Association of Luxurious Living, which was dissolved just a year later. Fast forward to 2020, a presidential election year: the company formed yet another business called PollMakers.

On the website for that company, which evidently offers opinion-polling services for political campaigns, the homepage depicts light bulbs and a series of floating questions against a pitch-black background—lights in the darkness—the first of which asks, “How would you rate President Trump’s performance?” Another one ponders, “Is global warming reality or hoax?” 

Voice Broadcasting Corporation, another subsidiary of Voice Ventures Inc., has worked with at least ten Texas campaigns or political action committees since 2012, which have together paid more than $123,000 for the company’s automated calling services. At nearly $40,000, Governor Greg Abbott’s campaign has been the largest contributor (ironically, Abbott was also the man behind an action against Monk’s Life Corporation and fourteen other telemarketers back in 2003, when, serving as attorney general, Abbott sued the companies for violating Texas’s do-not-call law). Heritage Alliance PAC, formerly known as Free Enterprise PAC—which brought a brand of Christian nationalist politics to Texas that has taken root in recent years—has thrown more than $28,000 at the corporation. Upwards of $14,000 came from the pocket of Wayne Christian, who serves as a Republican member of the Texas Railroad Commission. More than $6,000 came from the campaign for Wise County’s Andy Hopper, a right-wing member of the Texas State Guard running for Texas House District 64 with the endorsements of Attorney General Ken Paxton and Kyle Rittenhouse, who has become something of a celebrity among the far right after shooting and killing two men at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020. Steve Allison, a Republican in the Texas House who voted for Paxton’s impeachment and has opposed Governor Greg Abbott’s crusade for school vouchers (which would funnel public dollars into private schools), has spent about $3,500 for the calling service. 

“Since 1987, Voice Broadcasting has pioneered the automated calling industry for countless political campaigns,” the company’s old website states. “We use cutting-edge technologies and best practices to contact millions of registered voters with your automated message, giving you a definite edge over your competition.” These technologies include robocalls—a transmission method that is highly unpopular among consumers but lucrative for companies like Monk’s. 

Judge Sid Harle, a district judge in San Antonio who in 2016 ran for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, said he utilized the service in his campaign. “I had a campaign manager who suggested we do these robocalls,” he said. “There was a lot of debate about whether we wanted to do that or not.” He added, “My experience is people hate robocalls.” But it was an inexpensive way to get the word out. Harle had one of his friends, a former Texas Ranger, record a one-minute spot endorsing him. The calls were not well-received, and ultimately Harle did not win the race. “Campaign headquarters got several irate calls,” Harle said. 

In response to the New Hampshire robocalls, and amid growing concerns about the use of AI to disrupt the upcoming November elections, the FCC outlawed AI-generated robocalls last week. “Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters,” said FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel in a news release. “We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice.” The FCC is also investigating Lingo Telecom for its role in facilitating the calls. (Lingo Telecom could not be reached for an interview. A representative from Life Corporation declined Texas Monthly’s interview request. Monk did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.)

This is not the first time Life Corporation and Lingo Telecom have been subjects of an investigation regarding robocalls. “Since 2021, the ITG [USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group] has identified Lingo as the gateway provider responsible for 61 suspected illegal calls originating overseas that entered the United States,” the FCC wrote in its cease-and-desist letter to Lingo.

The New Hampshire state attorney general’s office launched its own investigation, which is ongoing, to determine whether Life Corporation worked with any other actors or entities, presumably including political figures who had an interest in suppressing Democratic voter turnout. At a press conference last week, Attorney General John Formella issued a warning: “The message to any person or company who would attempt to engage in these activities is clear and it’s simple: Don’t try it.”

But Monk seems to apply more of a sky’s-the-limit ideology to his business ventures: “Walter Monk is the man to talk to when you are thinking, ‘I wonder if Voice Broadcasting Corp. could do . . . ?’” it states on the current Voice Broadcasting website. “The answer is probably YES, and Walt is the guy that can figure out how to turn your idea into reality.”