July 9, 2008
I am compelled to respond to the laughably inaccurate assertions being spread by some Republicans in Congress over the Franking Commission's recent efforts to update rules governing the posting of videos on outside websites.
About a year ago Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked me to Chair the Congressional Commission on Mailing Standards (a.k.a. the Franking Commission), which includes 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans. It is charged with interpreting and applying antiquated House Rules that have been in place for years. They were written to oversee the appropriate use of free postage by Members of Congress when they communicate with their constituents. In general, the rules set forth what is appropriate communication worthy of taxpayer support and what is political in nature and, therefore, should not be funded by the taxpayers but more appropriately paid for with campaign funds.
Of course we all realize that communication methods have changed and are changing every day. At the first meeting of the Franking Commission I chaired we had an enjoyable, bipartisan, and open discussion about where to start updating these antiquated rules. Although I would prefer we had continued to move forward in a deliberative and cooperative manner, apparently some members of Congress feel otherwise.
First, the ONLY item we seek to address is LOOSENING existing rules to allow Members to post videos as a first step toward making the rules meet our constituents' expectations regarding how they communicate with us in the 21st century. This was completely ignored during the years that Republicans controlled Congress while the internet grew exponentially. It is currently against House rules to post video on any site with commercial or political advertising or to use taxpayer-funded resources to post outside of the House.gov domain.
We are not currently seeking to address anything other than video not blog postings, online chats or any other written form of communication anywhere on the internet. Any assertion to the contrary is a lie. Perhaps the people spreading those lies should take some time to actually read the letter I wrote, which is attached below.
Our only concern is commercialization not imposing limits on free speech. It is amazing to me that Republicans think they can obscure the issue with this completely false assertion.
Apparently the Republicans spreading these lies would rather operate without rules and open the House to commercialism. Maybe they don't care if an official video appears next to a political advertisement for Barack Obama or John McCain, creating the appearance of an endorsement. And I guess they don't care if constituents clicking on their videos will be treated to commercials for anything you can imagine, from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to Viagra. Certainly, advertisements are a reality in today's world and most people can distinguish. However, it is also a reality that Members of Congress who use taxpayer money to communicate with constituents should be held to the highest possible standard of independence and the appearance of independence.
Our approach allows the American public to have full access to information from Members while ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not support commercial or political advertising on the web. Certainly, there may be other means to achieve that goal and I am open to that discussion. What I am not open to is the intentional distortion of deliberative discussions for the sole purpose of scaring some segment of the public.
NO ONE is suggesting changes to the rules regarding content of messages or what Members can post and any assertion to the contrary is inaccurate. My letter specifically and clearly states that in the fourth paragraph.
It should be noted that the Franking Commission began reviewing this specific issue when a Republican Member requested the rules be updated so that videos could be posted on outside sites. This Member originally applauded our efforts as "a step in the right direction". I believe it is a step in the right direction; the first in what I hope will be an ongoing process to make the House rules meet the communications needs of the 21st century while balancing our responsibility for the appropriate use of government resources.
As soon as this latest political hyperventilation is contained, I hope to get back to work so we can continue to update our rules and procedures. Anyone familiar with the rules knows they need to be updated. But anyone who follows politics knows that these endeavors are always more difficult than they seem. Last year, when Speaker Pelosi asked me to Chair the Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, I never would have guessed it would take a full year to pass a simple House Rule to allow a small degree of independence into our internal Ethics process (which, by the way, most Republicans voted against). The effort to update our communications rules will be just as difficult and tedious but it will be accomplished and will be done without selling the House of Representatives to the highest online bidder.
I hope this clarifies the issue for anyone following this temper tantrum by some of my colleagues. Thank you for reading this and for caring about the House of Representatives and how every American can be best engaged in our deliberations.
Here is the letter that so upset some Members of Congress. Judge for yourself whether anyone is suggesting "censorship" or curtailing "the free flow of information."
June 24, 2008
The Honorable Robert Brady
Committee on House Administration
1309 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6157
Dear Chairman Brady,
I am writing as Chair of the Congressional Commission on Mailing Standards (Franking Commission). As you are aware, the Franking Commission is currently reviewing the federal laws, House Rules, regulations of the Committee on House Administration (CHA), and the regulations of the Franking Commission as they apply to official communications. Members and staff of the Franking Commission have been meeting informally to discuss various issues that have been brought to the Commission's attention. Recently, we reviewed a matter under the jurisdiction of CHA and I would like to bring several recommendations on this matter to your attention.
As you are aware, current CHA regulations have been interpreted to prohibit Members from posting official content outside of the House.gov domain. Unfortunately, many Members who wish to display video on their websites have found that the existing tools available within the House to do so are not user-friendly or efficient, and that in addition, server storage space within the House is currently insufficient to meet the growing demand for video. The House Leadership and your committee began to examine solutions to this situation last year and the Franking Commission recently engaged in detailed discussions of possible solutions. Specifically, we discussed the ongoing effort to establish designated House "channels" on external sites. This would allow a Member to post video material on a qualifying external website and then embed the video on his or her Member site from this external site. The concept of an "official" external channel has been adopted by other government agencies and it could be available to the House in short order if the relevant CHA regulations and practice are amended. I am pleased to forward recommendations on this matter to CHA for review and consideration.
Members of the Commission support revising the applicable CHA regulations to allow Members to post official video material outside of the House.gov domain. However, I respectfully submit the following recommendations for your review and consideration, should CHA decide to move forward with such a change. I believe that these conditions will help ensure that the House presence on such external sites conforms with acceptable standards that reflect favorably on the dignity, propriety, and decorum of the House. It is also my understanding that at least one external site and potentially many others have the technology available to meet the following conditions:
- Official content posted on an external domain must be clearly identified as produced by a House office for official purposes, and meet existing content rules and regulations;
- To the maximum extent possible, the official content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information or any other information not in compliance with the House's content guidelines.
- Any link from a House website to an external site on which the Member video is hosted must contain an exit notice.
- CHA, the Office of Web Assistance (OWA), or other designated House entity should maintain a list of external sites that meet whatever requirements are established by CHA.
Please note that nothing in these recommendations should be construed as a recommendation to change the current House rules and regulations governing the content of official communications.
While the above recommendations will help CHA as it seeks to provide House Members with the ability to post official video materials on the Web in an efficient and economical way, further changes to CHA regulations and practice may be necessary to account for the continual emergence of new technologies. I encourage CHA to view these recommendations as the first step in a process towards modernizing the regulations that govern communications of Members.
In addition, I encourage CHA to continue to review the services available through the Office of Web Assistance to determine to what extent OWA has the capability to provide video services to Members within House.
The Committee on House Administration has already demonstrated significant leadership in addressing the demand for these services. I encourage the Committee to proceed forthwith to promulgate such regulations as may be appropriate and look forward to working with you.
As always, thank you for your consideration and leadership.
Michael E. Capuano
Congressional Commission on Mailing Standards