Senators Levin, Collins Introduce Sweeps Bills

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the ranking minority member on the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations, and Sen. Susan M Collins (R-ME), chair of the subcommittee, introduced two new bills last week aimed squarely at sweepstakes marketer.

Sen. Levin introduced the Deceptive Mailing Elimination Act of 1999, S.336. The bill hopes to end deceptive mass mailings that use games of chance like sweepstakes and induce customers to purchase products.

If Levin's bill is passed, it will prohibit misleading statements on these mailings, require more disclosure, impose a civil penalty of $10,000 for each deceptive mailing and give the Postal Service the tools to pursue offenders.

For example, under this proposed act the Postal Service will be able to issue regulations to restrict misleading language as well as update those regulations in order to keep them effective against the schemes. The bill also will give the Postal Service the subpoena power to respond quickly, and require sweepstakes mailings to disclose the chances of winning and to make a clear statement that a purchase is not required to win.

"Complaints about these mailings are one of the top ten consumer complaints in the nation. I have received numerous complaints from my constituents in Michigan asking that something be done to provide relief from these mailings. Senior citizens are particular targets of these schemes because they are the most vulnerable, " Sen. Levin said in a statement. "While State Attorneys General have taken action and entered into agreements to end the most egregious practices against many of the companies that use deceptive mailings, these companies continue their deceptive practices in other states that don't have an agreement. Consequently, federal legislation is needed."

The bill is similar to legislation Levin introduced in the last Congress, and is cosponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Sen. Collins' bill, called The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, is "designed to stem the tide of deceptive mailings that are flooding the mailboxes of the people of Maine and the throughout the country."

Collins bill would prohibit mailings from resembling official government documents or creating the impression that the mailing is connected with or endorsed by the federal government. It would also give the U.S. Postal Inspection Service subpoena powers to probe fraudulent sweepstakes operations and subject violators to graduated civil penalties of between $50,000 and $2 million, depending on the size of the mailings.

Sen. Collins was joined in introducing the bill by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MA), chairman of the International, Security and Proliferation and Federal Services Subcommittee, which has legislative jurisdiction over the issues covered in the bill. Sens. Levin and Durbin also joined in cosponsoring the Collins-Cochran legislation.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Permanent Subcommittee

on Investigations is expected to hold additional hearings in early March on the impact these deceptive practices have had on the American people, particularly the elderly.

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