Last ditch censure campaign

Summary:Anti-impeachment group trying to sway Congress with last minute e-campaign.

With less than three days to go before the House of Representatives votes on whether President Clinton should be impeached, an anti-impeachment group is mobilizing an 11th-hour e-mail, phone and letter-writing campaign.

Censure and Move On's latest lobbying effort grew out of its e-mail petition campaign, which has drawn more than 300,000 signatures in three months without advertising or promotions -- a feat that even skeptics say is remarkable. The campaign gained momentum as supporters forwarded the e-mail appeal across the United States -- proving that the Internet has emerged as a viable platform for grassroots activism, said one of the group's leaders, Joan Blades.

The effort, which Blades said is supported by Democrats and Republicans who are sick of the Clinton sex scandal, was organized by a handful of Internet professionals who donated their time, and is being administered via a Web site that cost only $89.95 to produce. Even if the group is not successful in pushing a censure vote, its organizers say the effort still shows how quickly the Internet can be used to mobilize opinion.

$89.95 campaign
"This is only possible in a world where you can communicate with 100 million people for $89.95," Censure and Move On organizers say on the site.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether an online campaign can sway the members of Congress.

At this point, a vote to condemn, or censure, the President for his alleged cover-up of an illicit affair is not on the lame-duck Congress' agenda, but the House is set to vote on articles of impeachment crafted by the House Judiciary Committee last week.

House leaders, including Speaker-elect Bob Livingston and Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, have publicly stated they oppose a vote to censure Clinton since they believe the Constitution would not allow anything other than a straight vote for or against impeachment.

Spokespeople for the Judiciary Committee did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

Censure vote top priority
Blades and her husband Wes Boyd plan to deliver a printed version of the e-petition to Congress Wednesday, the day before the House is to vote on the articles of impeachment. To bolster their case, Blades and Boyd, the founders of software maker Berkeley Systems, hope that opponents of the impeachment vote will deluge their Congressional representatives with calls, e-mail and letters.

"Our top priority is getting a censure vote onto the agenda," Blades said in an interview Monday. "We need to let Congress know that the American people want them to have the right to vote their consciences on the censure option."

In its latest e-mail appeal to supporters, Censure and Move On offers a toll-free number for reaching Congressional representatives, along with numbers for members' in-state offices. Supporters are also being urged to call Livingston in particular.

"The incoming Speaker of the House, Bob Livingston, who will succeed Newt Gingrich in January, is really in control of this process," the e-mail states. "If he lets his party members vote their conscience and vote on censure, impeachment will probably die. If he continues to enforce party discipline, the President will be impeached on a purely partisan vote."

Supporters of Clinton's impeachment have also taken to the Web to plug their cause. A group calling itself the "Clinton Investigative Commission," (http://impeachclinton.org) which claims not to be affiliated with the Republican party, says it has collected 40,000 electronic signatures to add to signatures on paper petitions calling for Clinton's ouster. The CIC says it has gotten more than a million signatures altogether on the petitions.

The John Birch Society, a conservative issues lobbying group, has also launched a site at http://impeachment.org. This group also has an online petition, but doesn't say how many signatures it has attracted.

Expert: 'Little impact'
Within a week after its Sept. 22 launch, the MoveOn.org site had attracted 100,000 signatures on its anti-impeachment petition, Blades said. By this month, they reached 300,000. Then on Oct. 29, supporters in 44 states met personally with 219 members of the House to push the censure option, she said.

All this is well and good, but without proving to specific members of Congress that many of their particular constituents oppose impeachment, the effort might fall flat, said Myron P. Glaser, a professor of sociology at Smith College and an expert in grassroots activism.

"I doubt that this kind of thing will have much impact," Glaser said. "The Republican (House) leadership knows most people don't want impeachment, but they also feel they won't pay a political price since their core supporters are so much in favor of it."

Historically, grassroots campaigns have been most effective when they have been targeted geographically, and when their organizers can show they are committed to the cause for the long haul, he said.

"This is a transitory, as opposed to a long-term commitment," Glaser said. "You get this e-mail, you add your name, you send it on. There's no proof that your interest goes much deeper than that."

Symbolic if not successful
But having said that, he noted that in spite of the partisan rift over the impeachment issue, some Republicans might be given pause by the fact that the Censure and Move On petition took off with absolutely no promotions aside from word-of-mouth recommendations.

"Having people who are willing to organize like this is really crucial for the maintenance of a democratic society," Glaser said. "Even if they're not successful, it is symbolic. It gives people a platform to make their voices heard."

Topics: Hardware

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