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Unwanted political calls? My congressman’s on the case! (Not.)

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In late May, a recorded voice on my home telephone urged me to take “emergency action” about some real or imagined sin of the Bush administration and warned that my congressman would be “a critical swing vote.”

The caller provided no — absolutely none — identifying information, and that irritated me. So I wrote to my New York state District 29 representative, the Hon. John R. “Randy” Kuhl, and asked him to do something about this. (Earlier post.) Instead of deeds, he sent words.

Here is his congressionally franked reply (dated July 26) followed by my reply to his reply:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about unsolicited phone calls. I understand your concerns, and agree that these unwelcome calls should be restricted.

You will be pleased to know that I have cosponsored H.R. 4072, a bill to put an end to unsolicited, anonymous political phone calls by adding them to the national “Do Not Call” list. I feel that we need to strengthen the FCC’s Do Not Call list regulations to ensure that people who don’t want to receive these calls have a way to opt out and know who is exactly behind the calls.

Under current federal election law, caller identification is required for political calls that solicit contributions, advocate support for a candidate, or are paid for by a candidate or political committee. H.R. 4072 would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revise the rule to prohibit, as an abusive telemarketing act or practice, telephone calls to persons on the “Do Not Call” registry from any political organizations. [emphasis added]

My reply:

Dear Rep. Kuhl:

Thank you for your July 26 reply regarding my concern about unsolicited political phone calls. I am indeed pleased that you say you have co-sponsored H.R. 4072. (Despite your Nov. 17, 2005, press release about the bill, I would note that the Library of Congress’ Thomas service does not yet list you among the co-sponsors of Rep. Jim Gerlach’s bill.)

However, I am not pleased that the bill has languished in the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection since Nov. 4, 2005. Nor am I pleased that, according to Thomas, only six members of Congress have co-sponsored this bill. Nor am I pleased that the text of the bill itself is only 142 words long, lending itself to vagueness.

Nor am I pleased that the bill leaves to the Federal Trade Commission (not the FCC, as your letter says) the task of defining the phrase “political organization.” But I am most displeased that this bill would end these anonymous political phone calls for only 30 days prior to a primary or general election. If it’s an abusive practice as your letter suggests, why allow it for most of the year?

I would insist on a bill that specifies no unwanted anonymous political phone calls be permitted at any time as well as a precise definition of “political organization.” That task of definition should not be left to FTC bureaucrats.

Thank you for your interest in the issue.

Cordially, etc.

And there’s more: The bill speaks of “certain” political organizations. Should the FTC be permitted to define that? Rep. Kuhl writes about ensuring that people “know who is exactly behind the calls.” Nothing in the bill addresses that. The bill is vague, vague, vague. It’s a “point to” bill: Members of Congress can point to it as evidence that they’re doing something about the issue when, in fact, they aren’t. This bill is akin to political cover, as many bills are. Sponsoring or co-sponsoring a bill — then letting it languish — is not leadership on an issue.

Moral: If members of Congress — or your own state legislature — speak or write to you as an individual or as a member of the mass electorate, test the mettle of their words and hold them accountable for them.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 2, 2006 at 11:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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