The end of the 2013 political campaign season
surely delighted many — whether or not your candidate was elected
— as it brought renewed serenity from annoying, unsolicited
reaching-out-and-touching calls from political campaigns.
Even if you added residential land line and
mobile telephone numbers to the national Do Not Call Registry, which
limitsmost telemarketing calls you’d rather not receive,politicians continue to bombard us
with live and robocalls since they are exempt from the ruling.
It’s time to amend that regulation and punish
politicians, like telemarketing violators, up to $16,000 per complaint!
Well-financed campaigns could set aside funds to cover this, while those with
smaller campaign chests can just continue the cut-rate alternative—stuffing
our mailboxes with brochures and leaflets.
Some may insist it’s a Freedom of Speech issue, but that’s
Bullshit—with a capital
“B”! Politicians commonly support and enact legislation that specifically
excludes them from rules and regulations that apply to those who elect them to
There’s little argument that one of the most appreciated
byproducts of the technological age is the national Do Not Call list. For those
who may be unsure how to stop telemarketers from inundating you with
inconvenient calls, log on to www.donotcall.gov, and enter each of your phone
numbers. Within 31 days, most, but not all,telemarketers are supposed to stop calling.
Except for political messages. Like the Energizer bunny, they just keep coming
and coming, particularly in the weeks and months before an election.
According to the Federal Trade Commission website,
political solicitations are not covered by the agency’s Telemarketing Sales
Rule (TSR) that was part of the 1991 Telephone Protection Act. Political spam,
according to the regulation, is not considered “telemarketing.” Just more
political skulduggery that sets elected officials apart from the population
that elects them.
Also excluded from the registry listing, the site notes,
“arecharities and telephone surveyors, and calls from companies with which
you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you provided
express agreement in writing to receive their calls.”
Calls from non-profits can be annoying, too, but may be
more tolerable since they generally solicit donations for beneficent
When they first introduced the Do Not Call register in
2004, it seemed like a scheme that would not work. I registered my phone
numbers, but was skeptical that telephone spam would decline. At the outset, I
was not conscious of it, but offers to reduce my electric bill or somebody
hawking one product or service that I don’t want or need progressively stopped.
Nonetheless, like clockwork, from Labor Day to Election
Day, the phone rings relentlessly, with most having no or an “unknown” caller
ID. That’s the first clue not to answer, but, sometimes, it’s irresistible.
Right off, I know it’s not urgent when it takes 10-15 seconds for the message
to begin or for someone to come on the line. As a rule, these calls are
recorded announcements reminding me to vote or from a recognizable individual
electioneering for a particular candidate. I hang up when there’s more than
five seconds of silence.
Politicians should not be excluded from the Do Not Call
list. In fact, earlier this year, a North Carolina Republican, who does not use
the method, said her office received complaints from constituents, so she
introduced legislation, known as Robo COP (Robo Calls Off Phones), to include
only political robocalls, not live callers, on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry.
As expected, the bill, which had a measly five co-sponsors, went nowhere fast
and is unlikely to gain momentum unless more people complain to their
representatives or the FTC.
While researching this column I learned about the
non-bindingStopPoliticalCalls.org, run by the non-profit Citizens for Civil Discourse.
This registry is specifically to discourage political campaigns. The group
maintains it has commitments to cut the calls from several political campaigns.
You can be added to this list for free, though there are also paid options.
Some years ago, the quickest way toend telephone spamwas by pressing press pound (or hash
tag to the Twitter generation), but that no longer works. Some robocalls
politely direct you to press a specific number to opt out from future calls,
but I that doesn’t always work and may subject you to follow-up calls.
The easiest thing to do is to hang up, get the number of
the spam caller, if possible, and file a complaint with the FTC at DoNotCall.gov. Furthermore, even if you’re on
the Do Not Call list, the businesses and organizations that call again and
again aren’t likely to comply with the law or the Do Not Call list, so those
complaints may help the FTC trace and prosecute them.
On Election Day, robo-messages, promoting the New York City
mayoral, City Council and borough president candidates didn’t stop until after
6 p.m. In the days leading up to November 5th, I averaged about six robocalls a
day. I stopped answering the phone when my caller ID didn’t specify the caller.
In some instances, however, there was a number but no ID.
A partial solution to the live calls dilemma — albeit farfetched — parallels a premise from the Season
4 “Seinfeld” episode (“The Pitch”).
Jerry receives a call from a long distance service
telemarketer and asks if he could call back. The caller replies that he’s “not
allowed to do that,” so Seinfeld responds, “I guess you don’t want people
calling you at home.” The telemarketer answers, “No,” to which Jerry says, “Now
you know how I feel” and hangs up.
If we could only
turn the tables on our legislators. Politicians, who want to remain exempt from
the Do Not Call Registry, would be forced to publicize their home numbers, so
we can call them six times a day
during a campaign to clarify their stand on the issues. There’s little chance
this would ever happen, but then we’d see how expeditiously they’d sanction
inclusion on Do Not Call lists.