September 27, 2003

Au Contraire: Politicians Be Damned!

Jason Levine is mad about the end-around the American Teleservices Association did this week by filing suit to stop the “Do Not Call” list, set to begin October 1. He passed on Dave Barry’s advice: call the ATA and force them to pay for the call (updated number: 866-500-4272, if you’re interested).

Instead I recommend calling your Congress people and letting them know what wusses they are. The Senate and House salivated over easy political capital by overriding Tuesday’s court ruling by the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma. Judge Lee West determined the Federal Trade Commission needed legislative authority to create the list. And Congress was happy to quickly supply the FTC with said authority.

But then a second court order stayed the list’s implementation by determining that it was a violation of free speech. The list prevents only telemarketers from calling us, but not political campaigns nor charities. The Court said that was setting up two levels of free speech. I had always wondered about that dichotomy.

Unwanted political solicitations are high on my list of telephony spam. And while charities are a little bit higher on the food chain, we receive many calls from so-called charitable and community organizations that are really moneymaking schemes in disguise. Fire and police “associations” are some of the most prevalent (we are annually warned by our real fire and police departments that they never make phone solicitations). A real “Do Not Call” list should include any unwanted phone calls.

To those who said this is a free speech issue, this is not about speech. This is about your right not to hear, not to listen. If you don’t want to listen, you ought to get on this list. This court in Oklahoma is not going to stop us.

Billy Tauzin, R-LA
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman

I was pleased Congress was trying to protect consumers at lightning speed. However, when faced with banning political calls they have stopped dead in their partisan tracks. Representative Tauzin’s words now seem two-faced. And I doubt we will get much more help from him or his colleagues.

This blatant self-interest angers me more than the suits filed by the Direct Marketing Association. It’s reminiscent of the long fight to enact political campaign reform. While despicable as their trade is, DMA’s interest in self-preservation is clear and transparent. I don’t elect them to represent my interests. Yet, stymied Representatives and Senators were quick to help their constituents only as long as their political aspirations and campaigns were not affected. Whose interests are they really putting first?

Now that it’s their money we’re talking about, Congress’ hesitation to help us speaks volumes. Their concern for their own welfare at the expense of ours is contemptible. But why should I be surprised? That’s simply politics as usual.

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