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Direct marketing exec: FTC overreached with no-call list

Robert Wientzen, president and CEO of Direct Marketing Association
Robert Wientzen, president and CEO of Direct Marketing Association

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NEW YORK -- A nationwide system to block unwanted telemarketing calls was supposed to take effect October 1, but a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Federal Trade Commission overstepped its congressional mandate in creating a national "do not call" list for telemarketers.

The court decision was a victory for the Direct Marketing Association. Robert Wientzen, the group's president and CEO, spoke with CNN's Bill Hemmer on Thursday morning, before the House and Senate took up a bill to reverse the court's ruling.

HEMMER: Americans put more than 50 million phone numbers on the don't-call registry.

Can they be wrong?

WIENTZEN: Well, we don't think they're wrong. If they don't want to receive calls, we don't want to call them. About 30 million of those folks were already on a list, either a state list or a list that we've maintained for 18 years. So it's not new for a lot of them.

HEMMER: What is wrong, then, with what the FTC has done?

WIENTZEN: Well, Bill, what we said in our -- in our court case, and the judge agreed with us, was that the FTC simply didn't have the authority to do this. And he agreed with us. We think that people who don't want to get calls should indeed have the right to express that, and we shouldn't call them.

HEMMER: Now there is a major effort right now to get this thing reversed, quite possibly by the 1st of October. If you listen to members of Congress, we'll hear from some of them right now, they are going to put out a full-court press right now to make sure this judge is overturned.

Listen to the talk now in D.C. on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILLY TAUZIN, R-LOUISIANA: This is something that Americans -- 50 million Americans -- have said they absolutely want the advantage of. And we are determined, bound and determined, before we leave this session of Congress, to make sure they have the advantage of a do-not-call list.

REP. JOHN DINGELL, D- MICHIGAN: We will try and have this matter dealt with by the end of the time that it -- that it is supposed to go into place, which is October 1, next Wednesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: You fear that it's just a question of time before you're reversed again?

WIENTZEN: Well, I think there's going to be a do-not-call list. But this is a great example of the sort of political sound bite that makes this attractive. It's not 50 million people on the list, it's 50 million phone numbers. That probably...

HEMMER: That could represent families, too, on one, which actually increased that number to 50 million.

WIENTZEN: Well, indeed, but we know it has a lot of cell phones. It has a lot of people who have been on the list, our list, for as long as 18 years. This is a great political game that we're seeing here. Congress, I think, acted a little bit too quickly, and perhaps they are going to rectify that.

HEMMER: So your position is that you think the government should not have authority in saying who is on your list and who is not, is that correct?

WIENTZEN: We don't think the government should have a role in regulating the kind of advertising activity that goes on.

HEMMER: OK, then if that's the case, what kind of list do you favor, then?

WIENTZEN: We think a list that expresses people's desire not to be called is appropriate. As I say, we've had it for 18 years. We think it's probably a better thing not done by the government. You know government might want to regulate how you operate your show a lot more strictly.

HEMMER: Well, let's hope not.

WIENTZEN: And I doubt that you'd like that either.

HEMMER: A member of Congress also said yesterday, said this is as popular as a skunk at a church picnic.

WIENTZEN: Well, it's a great political issue. We understand that. But the serious aspect here is that people who don't want to get called are probably not going to buy and we don't want to call them, either.

HEMMER: Do you think it's just political or do you think there's a question of politeness involved in this as well? If people don't want their phone ringing, why can they not have the FTC step in and say you know what, we're going to give you this option?

WIENTZEN: Well, again, Bill, it's we don't oppose the concept of people expressing their desire not to be called. We've been doing just that and respecting that for 18 years. Our point here is that the FTC did not have the authority to do this. The federal court agreed. There are some other technical issues that suggest this could be done a lot better. But politically, this was a very attractive thing, and I'm afraid the FTC rushed it a little bit too quickly.


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