Monday, July 14, 2008

Returning Access to the People

This is an especially exciting time to serve the people as an elected Representative. Due to rapid advances in technology, an old adage is disappearing. People used to believe that in order for a leader to stay in office, he must take money from lobbyists and special interest groups.

In the past, legislators have depended on special interest groups for two things. Firstly, they needed lobbyists to explain the special nuances of the industry-specific legislation that they (the lobbyists) were requesting. You can easily imagine how this could lead to abuse as the citizens' legislators are often not familiar with the diverse nature of these various industries. Secondly, legislators needed lobbyists to funnel them money in order to finance campaigns and put the legislators' message in front of the people. This left them incredibly dependant on maintaining a close relationship with the special interest groups.

Now, however, with the expansion of the internet, legislators can keep in contact with the people much easier than before. In my previous updates, I have described how easy it is for bad legislation to be passed by the House with little advance public notice. This has traditionally allowed only the lobbyists and special interest groups to have input, as normal people had little opportunity to make their voices heard. Now, even with little notice, those who have the necessary knowledge of the industry affected by bad legislation can read the bills, e-mail their Representative, and tell them why the legislation should be defeated.

The Internet also allows Legislators to bypass lobbyist financing and enables them to go to the people directly. I have enjoyed using the Internet to maintain contact with those I represent. Since taking office, I have been able to use Google Groups, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress and YouTube, in addition to a traditional web site to issue regular updates to hundreds of contacts who live in my district. Just as importantly, I have been able to receive feedback and help requests from people who would not normally contact their State Representative.

This is why a recent debate in Washington, D.C. has captured my attention. Members of the U.S. House Administration Committee are considering new rules that might take away the ability of our Federal Representatives to use some of the growing number of internet tools to communicate with constituents.

This attempt is being opposed U.S. Rep. John Culberson who uses the Twitter text messaging service to provide updates. Some of Culberson's messages are written on the House floor itself. Culberson said the rule as proposed would require him to submit his proposed messages to a House Committee for approval before he could post them. The rule would also limit the Congressman from being able to use video provision services like YouTube, which especially hits home, since I use the same service to provide updates to those I represent.

I certainly hope that Culberson is able to defeat this proposal. And I strongly suspect that the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is becoming increasingly frightened by the access that people have to Congress because of these new services.

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