Statement from Congressman Mike Capuano Regarding Inaccurate Republican Assertions over Video Posting
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."