OP-ED: Time to Put Political Calls on Do Not Call

by Rene A. Henry
Rene A. Henry

Rene A. Henry
Rene A. Henry Rene A. Henry

You would think that with its popularity rating plummeting to nine percent that Congress would want to do something that the public wants. Wrong.

If you are like me, you’re already sick and tired of getting unwanted, robo-dialed, recorded political phone calls. And we are still more than six months away from the political campaigns ending. Add to that the political pollsters who call wanting your opinion on issues just as you sit down to enjoy dinner.

Since Congressmen John Dingell (D-Michigan) and Wilbert J. “Billy” Tauzin II (R-Louisiana) sponsored legislation that gave the Federal Trade Commission the authority to establish a Do Not Call Registry in 2003 more than 200 million residential land lines and cell phones have been registered.

Unfortunately for the American public, Congress exempted itself from the list. In spite of strong public disdain for automated political calls, campaigners continue to spend millions of dollars on this increasingly common and unpopular tactic because it is an inexpensive way to quickly reach thousands of voters, most of whom do not want to be reached.

Some members of Congress are listening and should be applauded for doing so. During the 100th Congress (2007-2009) nine bills were introduced in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate that would add political calls to the Do Not Call Registry. All of them died for lack of support. This number dropped to only four bills between 2009-2011, but give credit to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and David Price (D-N.C.) for making an effort to regulate calls. Too bad their colleagues in both houses have so little concern for their constituents.

As for the current situation, former House Speaker and Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich may well see his vision for a permanent manned colony operating on the moon before Congress gives the public what it wants.

In the wake of the misbehavior of senior management at the General Services Administration and the Secret Service that tarnished the image of federal employees, the FTC and its Do Not Call Registry should be given accolades. In addition to providing a service for the American public, according to Mitchell J. Katz, a staff attorney in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, since its inception the commission has collected more than $69 million in civil penalties and other monetary relief. Katz says that where possible, final judgments providing equitable monetary relief are returned to consumer victims and the remaining funds are turned over to the U.S. Treasury.

Chances are you or a friend have received robocalled recorded messages from “Rachel with Cardholder Services.” Asia Pacific Telecom made 2.6 billion calls to consumers over a 21-month period and 2.4 million calls in just one day. “The FTC is aggressively pursuing all of these abusers,” said Will Maxson, Do Not Call program manager. “In one recent FTC case, a New York federal court entered a judgment of more than $30 million against defendants accused of making millions of deceptive robocalls to American consumers.” Maxson said that many different companies use the Rachel name and generic Cardholder Services scam, illegally calling both cell phones and landlines.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits calls made by automated telephone dialing systems to cell phones as well as emergency and hospital lines. The TCPA also prohibits calls to residential telephone lines that use automated or pre-recorded messages except in an emergency or by an order of the Federal Communications Commission that would exempt the call.

More than 20 years ago when the FCC developed the rules, it was required by Congress “to consider” exempting calls made for non-commercial purposes. The FCC “considers” calls made by campaigns or other political organizations to be for a non-commercial purpose. According to Maxson, purely political calls, even for issues as well as candidates, are not covered by the FTC’s rules.

Maxson says that Congress did not give the FTC authority to seek criminal charges against abusers but that many telemarketing violations are referred to the U.S. Department of Justice which has taken action and put individuals in prison.

Maybe the best way to get the attention of the politicians is to put anyone who calls on a Do Not Vote For list!

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Rene A. Henry is an author and writer who lives in Seattle, Washington. Many of his articles are posted on his website at www.renehenry.com.

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