Hi-Tech Deceit Use of Bogus List by Lobbyists Raises Questions about Methods

By Jim Drinkard Of The | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 11, 1995 | Go to article overview

Hi-Tech Deceit Use of Bogus List by Lobbyists Raises Questions about Methods


Jim Drinkard Of The, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


CHARGES OF FRAUD in a lobbying campaign that flooded Congress with telegrams last week have renewed debate over the legitimacy of the fastest-growing way to influence the government: high-tech grass-roots lobbying.

"It's outrageous, it's deceptive and it's wrong," said Ann McBride, chairwoman of Common Cause, itself a grass-roots group that lobbies for severing the link between money and politics.

U.S. Capitol Police detectives are interviewing hundreds of people whose names appeared on telegrams generated during a fight over a rewrite of a telecommunications law. House members who traced the letters found that many had come from people who hadn't authorized them, including several from children and even from people who had died.

"I don't like that, to have my name on a letter when I don't know what's going on," said Pauline Newsome of Elyria, Ohio. Her name appeared on three telegrams sent to the office of Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. She said she never authorized them and knows little about the battle between long-distance and local telephone companies that spawned the campaign.

The long-distance telephone coalition that mounted the campaign says it knows nothing about bogus telegrams and suggests that its efforts may have been sabotaged.

"I'm taking a big hit here, and I resent it," said Robert Beckel, chairman of a Washington lobbying firm that used computer lists to contact residents of each congressional district and send messages on their behalf.

Beckel said he generated nearly half a million messages from 175,000 individuals using the services of NTS Marketing in Lynchburg, Va. A check of telephone records found only one instance in which a person in whose name a telegram was sent was not contacted, he said.

The episode is the most extreme example yet to surface of the pitfalls inherent in high-tech grass-roots lobbying, McBride said. It also has rekindled debate over the legitimacy of using computers and other technology - and sometimes frightening exaggerations - as a lobbying amplifier for well-heeled interests.

Originally the province of civil rights and environmental groups in the 1960s and 1970s, grass-roots lobbying has come to be dominated by business interests and lobbying specialists who use databases, faxes and sophisticated telephone technology to multiply their clout. …

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