Shouldn't members of Congress be able to connect with all of us freely and easily online? I'd guess most of you would think that's a good idea. So, when Sunlight's Open House Project Google group got riled up this week about this issue, we were inspired to do something to rally citizens to ensure lawmakers can freely connect with us all online.
In that spirit, we are launching a new campaign, Let Our Congress Tweet, to urge Congress to make clear guidelines that do not inhibit lawmakers from freely interacting with constituents where they already go online to share ideas-through Web services like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
Join our petition right now and make your voice count.
Last year, Sunlight's Open House Project issued a report recommending straightforward technological reforms to increase transparency and public access to the work and members of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of our major recommendations was to permit lawmakers to take full advantage of Internet resources. Wonks will know this as our recommendation to modernize the Franking Rules that govern how members of Congress use the Internet to communicate with constituents, primarily through their official Web sites.
Unfortunately, these rules are decided ad hoc in advisory opinions. (A guidebook given to lawmakers about all their activities includes some rules about their Web use. When Congress first developed rules governing lawmakers' use of the Internet, it viewed the new medium as an extension of telephones, mail, radio and television, putting e-mail and member Web sites under the purview of franking regulations. Franking regulations were developed to restrict lawmakers' sending of unsolicited mailings to constituents, but today the differences between the old and new forms of communication are so great that a rethinking of franking policy over electronic communications is necessary.
Under the current system, members of Congress are forced to break rules to use new technologies and services to do what their constituents ask of them: connect, listen and be held accountable. So, that YouTube video you saw on a lawmaker's Web site? Illegal! Couple that with the vagueness of only having ad hoc opinions to guide lawmakers in their Internet communications on a case-by-case basis, and you get confusion as to what lawmakers are or aren't allowed to do...resulting in a chilling effect.
As Congress reconsiders the restrictions placed on congressional Internet use, you can tell Congress to embrace the communication technologies that we already use. Join us and tweet the petition now.