“Nobody’s going to run a hug-your-telemarketer campaign,” admits Matt Mattingley, director of government relations for the American Teleservices Association. As head lobbyist for the ATA, Mattingley’s job is to enforce the organization’s code of ethics, fend off government regulation, and generally spiff up the image of Those People Who Call During Dinner.

AW: In your view, why the bad image of telemarketers?
For politicians, it’s a consumer protection issue. Who’s going to bash you for bashing telemarketers? And for the media it’s an easy headliner, [exposing] some miscreant who pulls a shady deal using a telephone.

AW: How big a business is telemarketing?
Telemarketing employs about 6 million people. Last year, $660 billion in sales was conducted using a telephone. About 180 million people took part in transactions by phone. But you never see those people on TV. You only see those who have a complaint.

AW: What do you think really bothers people about telemarketing?
We think people object to being called about products they’re not interested in. You’ve got to target your market audience. You don’t want to market the latest swimwear to an 80-year-old grandmother.

AW: How do you deal with the scam artists?
We would like to see the Federal Trade Commission have more authority. These repeat offenders should be taken out of the marketplace and put in jail, not fined and slapped on the wrist so they can go to another state and start over.

AW: What do you think of Tom Mabe, the comedian who sells a “Revenge on the Telemarketers” CD?
He’s looking to make a buck off of telemarketers. This is America. Why not?