Business & Lobbying

Lobbyists push to get robocall bill across finish line


Businesses are turning to K Street to push Congress to pass legislation curtailing robocalls.

Automated phone calls have long plagued legitimate businesses and consumers, but with bills in both the House and Senate, lobbyists are going into overdrive to ensure legislation reaches President Trump’s desk.

Lobbyists told The Hill that some members hear more about robocalls than any other issue.

{mosads}“Members have told me that it’s something that constituents and members alike are impacted by and constituents want a solution. They’re tired of all these random calls coming in,” a lobbyist told The Hill.

The Senate is expected to take the lead, with bipartisan legislation in the upper chamber already boasting more than 70 co-sponsors.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) teamed up on the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on April 3, but it is unclear when it will get a floor vote.

The bill would give regulators more time to find scammers, increase civil forfeiture penalties for those who are caught, promote call authentication and blocking, and help coordinate enforcement to increase criminal prosecution of illegal robocallers.

“My guess is they’re not going to go home for August recess and not have something done on it,” the lobbyist predicted.

The bill has 34 Democrats on board, 33 Republicans and both Senate Independents, as well as the backing of all 50 state attorneys general, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission and a slew of industry associations and consumer groups. 

Outside advocates are pulling out all the stops to push the bill through. More than 27 different groups have registered to lobby on the TRACED Act, and 162 lobbyists have been advocating for the bill. 

“We’re supportive of this bill because we are service providers who work with and have to respond to consumer complaints,” Mike Romano, the senior vice president of industry affairs and business development at NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, told The Hill.

NTCA is made up of over 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America.

“Sometimes it can be a cliché in these discussions but this one really is driven by the consumer,” he said about tackling robocalls.

But advocates do have some concerns about the effort and are working to address those issues.

Romano said that he hopes the legislation considers how policy changes affect smaller providers.

Other lobbyists said their clients want to ensure that legislation targeting robocalls does not have a negative effect on legitimate automated calls, for example ones from doctors’ offices or schools.

Ryan Donovan, the chief advocacy officer at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), a group advocating for the country’s credit unions, wants to see real business relationships like those protected. 

“When there is a legitimate business purpose to these calls, whether that is alerting folks about potential fraud, debt collection … we think there ought to be a safe harbor for that,” he said.

But businesses know that allowing customers to be inundated by automated calls can hurt legitimate business.

“When there are illegal calls going through, it makes consumers less likely to pick up their phones,” Donovan said.

“What we’re seeking through this process is to make sure credit unions can communicate with their member owners,” he continued. “Whether that means greater ability to dial folks on their mobile phones, which are pretty must ubiquitous in the United States now, or through text message or mobile alert, we think there ought to be clarity there.”

Donovan said the debate highlights how outdated the nation’s communications policies have become. 

“The laws that govern communication between businesses and their customers, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, was enacted in 1991,” he said. “That was almost 30 years and the type of communication, the pace of communication has changed considerably over that time and the law and the underlining regulations really haven’t.”

CTIA, which represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, applauded the Senate for moving the bill out of committee, calling it a “balanced, bipartisan approach to combatting illegal and unwanted robocalls.”

“This bipartisan legislation enhances the FCC’s ability to protect American consumers and acknowledges the important role the wireless industry has to play in implementing call authentication,” CTIA senior vice president for government affairs Kelly Cole said in a statement last week.

Prominent companies are also pushing for the bill, including AT&T.

“AT&T is committed to giving consumers the very best tools to combat illegal robocalls. We also are supportive of collaborative efforts in the fight against these unwanted calls,” Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president of federal relations, said in a statement.

Other companies that are lobbying for the bill include Verizon Communications, Twilio, Cox Enterprises, Oracle Corp and Sirius XM Radio, among others.

Groups lobbying for it include the American Financial Services Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Telecom Association, ACA International, America’s Communications Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association, among others.

Hired guns include top names like Dean Aguillen, Todd Novascone and Chris Giblin at Ogilvy Government Relations, and David Castagnetti, Nichole Distefano and Bruce Mehlman at Mehlman, Castagnetti. 

Shawn Chang and Scott Weaver at Wiley Rein, Pamila Garvie at K&L Gates, and Jason Rosenstock at Thorn Run Partners are also working on the issue.

Tags Donald Trump Edward Markey John Thune
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