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Contact-Congress: Your Letters

August 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As congressional approval reaches new lows, it’s more important than ever that people have a reliable public forum for communicating with their members of Congress. Yet, as we’ve seen during this August recess, communicating with Congress is actually getting more difficult. Less than half of senators and represntativs are holding public town hall meetings this year. Constituents trying to speak with their members are being threatened with arrest, and those fortunate enough to be able to attend meetings are having their rights to document the public events violated by police.

Clearly we need better channels for open discourse between the public and their elected officials. That’s what motivated us to build our free and open-source suite of OpenCongress v.3 tools, which put engaging with Congress at the center of the site experience.

Until now, to email members of Congress people had to visit separate websites for their three lawmakers, fill out three different webforms, and submit messages via an opaque system that, frankly, feels like it feeds to a paper shredder at the other end. With our Contact-Congress tool, now you can email all three of your lawmakers at the same time, get a custom permalink to your letter, share it with your social networks, and track responses on a public forum. Plus, our unique message-builder platform makes it easy to add campaign finance information relevant to your topic, important bits of legislative text, comments from peers, and more in one click. Full details of how that works here

Since we launched OpenCongress v.3 about one month ago, we’ve delivered more than 1,500 original messages to Congress about specific pieces of pending legislation. That may not sound like a lot compared to the numbers organization get with their petitions and form letters, but these are all individually-crafted, personalized and detail-rich messages, which research shows have a much stronger impact on members of Congress. According to a study from the Congressional Management Foundation, “Only 3% of staff surveyed say identical form postal mail would have ‘a lot’ of influence on their Member of Congress if he/she had not reached a decision. In contrast, 44% report individualized postal letters would have ‘a lot’ of influence.” And, in case you’re wondering, email and postal mail are equally influential to an undecided Member. 

Below are excerpts from just a handful of letters sent to Congress so far using our OpenCongress v.3 tools:

SedonaErnie of Arizona wrote to their lawmakers expressing opposition to the S.1292, the “Employment Protection Act of 2011”:

This bill is an obvious and blatant first step in gutting the EPA. The entire reason for the EPA’s existence is to obtain some balance and counter measure against all unbridled economic activity.

Of course, any restriction of economic activity for environmental protection reasons will have some negative economic and potential employment impacts. If for-profit enterprises, whose obvious objective is to maximize profits, could be thoroughly trusted to NOT maximize their profits for environmental and ecological reasons, we would not need the EPA.

Asking the EPA to consider, and potentially modify decisions based upon employment is like asking the chickens in the henhouse to consider the hunger of the fox.

jfalcon of Washington wrote to their lawmakers in opposition to S.978, a bill to provide felony charge for streaming copyrighted content:

There are many reasons why I oppose this bill. For instance, 99% of users on OpenCongress.org, a free, non-partisan resource, oppose S.978. But not to follow the crowd, let’s apply logic to this: This bill does not provide for fair use, parody or even the 13 year old girl who does a fan video of their teen idol. Now you’re wanting to put people in all of these categories in jail and/or fine them? Where is the common sense in that?

Sen. Murray, I know that you took $7,500 in the 2010 election cycle from motion picture production & distribution interest groups who support S.978. Additionally, I know that you took $4,250 in the 2010 election cycle from entertainment industry/broadcast & motion pictures interest groups who support S.978. As a former school teacher, can you in good conscience agree with a bill that you know that your former students (or in this case their children) engage in, while you criminalize to your own financial benefit?

catcanyon of Texas also wrote their lawmakers in opposition to the streaming bill:

You have received over $90,000 from special interest groups to support this bill, of which you are a co-sponsor. I’d like to forget your personal financial gain in this matter and think more of the intellectual and entertainment the general public gains from having stream access of web content. We all pay for the web access, we shouldnt have to pay for the content as well. Those who post content on the web do so knowing they may additionally sell their work, but they do so with the knowledge it may not sell.

This bill through OpenCongress.org alone as been viewed 99,569 times and 99% of the viewers have express by vote, opposition.

cdodson of Illinois wrote to their lawmakers in opposition to H.R.96, the “Internet Freedom Act”:

As a constituent, I want to make my opposition to the ‘Internet Freedom’ Act heard. This act would turn internet access and our communications infrastructure into even more of a political football than it already is. The FCC should be allowed to regulate the internet and protect equal and equitable access for citizens, rather than congress protecting the ‘right’ of multi-billion dollar media conglomerates to monopolize access and abuse the American people.

thegipples of Oregon wrote their lawmakers in opposition to S.365, the debt ceiling/deficit reduction bill:

All prominent, competent economists, including Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, and Robert Reich, oppose cutting government spending in a weak economy, as do prominent investors such as the CEO of PIMCO, who says that due to this bill, “unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise, growth will be lower than it would be otherwise, and inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise.”

I urge you to oppose this bill. Default is a fraudulent threat, as President Obama would simply use his Constitutional authority to avoid default, if necessary.

Read Sen. Merkley’s response here.

Here’s another message in opposition to the debt ceiling bill, this one from kevinmcc of Illinois:

86% of users on OpenCongress.org, a free, non-partisan resource, oppose S.365, yet you voted AYE on passage. Americans are sick of the debt, sick of wasting tax dollars on interest, sick of our tax dollars go to the operations of foreign governments.

You also voted to bypass the constitution, not new to you, but we are sick of that too. “Sec. 401. Establishment of Joint Select Committee” I spent about 20 minutes reading over this bill. Clearly this is not constitutional. Why do you continue to violate the constitution by passing this kind of legislation?

You had your chance to vote NAY on this very serious matter. I will be keeping this in mind during election time. Continuing to vote in this matter will not win my vote again. Please get in touch with reality and your voters.

Dimaati of Pennsylvania wrote their lawmakers in opposition to H.R.2587, the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act”:

The main reason for my opposition to this bill is this bill will destory the only legal stop gap keeping large businesses from shipping jobs overseas. Unemployment is at an all time high in the US but companies like BMW & AT&T have been allowed to outsource to countries where the labor force isn’t requesting workers benefits like health insurance or a living wage.

HR 2587 will hinder what’s left of the middle class & the growing levels of working poor in our country to live an average life or progress to a better one.

Providing the opposite position, jlb of Texas wrote their lawmakers in support of the same bill:

Management must have the right to allocate capital as it see fit consistent with obligations to stock holders. Labor and government must not be allowed to interfere with free entrance and exit from the markets.

Read Sen. Hutchinson’s response here.

Finally, here’s part of Dckelly of California’s letter in opposition to H.R.25, the “Fair Tax Act”:

This bill is an outrage. I thought Republicans did not believe in tax increases. For years years all they talked about was a 17% flat tax. This 23% tax is 6% over their own recommendations. And, from what I read, it again favors the rich and big businesses, not the small business owner or the individual American taxpayer.

We need to focus on getting Americans back to work! This bill does not do that.

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