Talk to your representatives - but first a quick math question

Lobby groups angry over plan to require correspondents to answer a simple math question in order to communicate with congressmen and Senators. But
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Sure, your Congressman would love to hear from you. But first, please answer this simple math question. It seems that Congress, too, is deluges with too much email. So this proposal: In addition to requiring correspondents to visit a website, enter a zip code, and fill out name, address and email, Congress wants to add a requirement that you answer a simple match question, the Washington Post reports.

It's an attempt to stop automated bots from filling their inboxes, say House managers. Lobbyists think it's an attempt to barricade themselves from the passions of their constituents.

The reaction from K Street has been swift and loud. "It's very disturbing," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way.

"We are concerned," agreed David Willett, spokesman for the Sierra Club.

It's clearly not about penile implants and Nigerian dictators. Writes the Post:

From lawmakers' perspective, the new barrier is a good way to block millions of cookie-cutter lobby letters that are conceived and created by giant trade associations, labor unions and the like. According to some lawmakers, these often-identically worded missives too often come from people who don't live in the congressman's districts or who don't even know that messages have been sent in their names. In other words, these pleas are either misdirected or fraudulent.

Interest-group leaders vehemently disagree. E-mails have become the communication of choice on Capitol Hill. They're cheap, easy to use and, unlike postal letters, they aren't delayed by weeks of inspection, which was necessitated by the anthrax attack on the Senate soon after Sept. 11, 2001.

Doesn't every member want to have two-way communication with the public? No, not when their staff has to go through every single email. Lobbying groups take a righteous indignation at the news. Eli Pariser of Moveon.org:"We should be living in the golden age of politics -- an age in which every member of Congress can easily have a two-way conversation with his or her most engaged constituents. Instead, we're seeing bunkerization." Bill Pease of GetActive Software: "[This action] assumes anyone who participates in any organization's online advocacy campaign is not to be trusted."

Still, what do lobbyists think staffers do with all of those identical emails? Carefully tabulate them? Print them out and analyze each policy point? News flash: Congressional staffers have a delete button too. Unique, original communication will get far more attention than identical form letters. And the people who go through a math filter are more likely to get attention that people who walk through an open door.

Still, it won't work; the bots will defeat the filters; they always do.

In the meantime, lobbies, on behalf of their citizen advocates, are kicking up a ruckus. "What we've been doing -- and what the [political] right has been doing -- contributes to a more robust democracy and it ought to be welcomed," said Neas of People for the American Way.

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