Proposal Would Expand “Do Not Call” List

Politicians, non-profits could be banned from unsolicited telemarketing.

Pennsylvania’s “Do Not Call” registry has existed for 20 years now, yet state residents can still often find themselves on the receiving end of unwanted telemarketer calls — particularly, it seems, once election season starts.

But maybe not much longer.

Rep. Russ Diamond, a Lebanon County Republican, told colleagues this week he will soon propose legislation to remove two types of callers still allowed by law to ignore the registry: Non-profit organizations and politicians.

“Pennsylvanians are extremely generous when it comes to donating and supporting our local, state and national charities and political organizations,” he wrote in a memo to fellow legislators. “After they donate, their names appear on the charity’s donor list.  Some of those charities share their donor lists.  Most often, this in turn erupts into an avalanche of unwanted telephone calls.”

He added: “Because of the publicity of our ‘Do-Not-Call-List’ registry, many Pennsylvanians will register their phone numbers believing the calls will stop. But the registry does not apply to nonprofit or political organizations so the calls continue.”

The Telemarketer Registration Act, passed in 1996, established the state registry. (The Federal Trade Commission also maintains one at the national level.) Currently it contains five exemptions, including the non-profit and political calls. The others allow telemarketers to call residents who have expressly asked to be contacted, in reference to an existing debt or payment, and somebody “with whom the telemarketer has an established business relationship within the past 12 months preceding the call.” Those exemptions would remain under Diamond’s bill.

It’s difficult to say how widespread the the issue is; an official with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said today the agency’s complaints are not public record. A violation of the law carries a civil penalty of up to $1,000 — or $3,000 if the person contacted is age 60 or older.

Non-profit and political organizations are generally exempt from the federal “do not call” requirements, as well. But Diamond suggested patience is growing short for such telemarketers. He said they should act “just as any other telemarketing company would.”

“I believe that an individual has the right to minimize calls by these types of organizations,” he wrote, “and be able to continue donating without getting harassed.”