Campaign against warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty is expanding

Three targets are chosen who are key enablers of the corrupt bill Congress is attempting to pass.

Published June 18, 2008 8:49PM (EDT)

There are numerous developments to report concerning the campaign to stop the FISA/telecom bill and to target those who enable it. First, the amount raised in the last 24 hours is now a truly extraordinary $90,000 -- bringing the total for this campaign over $170,000. The more that number goes up, the more potent this campaign will be, the harder it will hit its deserving targets. Contributions can be made here.

The ACLU Press Release announcing this new coalition, which is being called "Strange Bedfellows," is here. We expect to announce numerous other additions to the coalition -- many quite significant -- very shortly.

According to a new article from Roll Call (sub. rq'd), the House "may consider contentious electronic spying legislation on Friday 'if that's ready to go,' Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said [today]." There is no question that Hoyer is well aware of and is now responding to this campaign against him.

As of today, Hoyer has stopped falsely denying that he engineered this deal. He has also stopped falsely denying that it contains telecom amnesty. Instead, he is now offering the excuse that he had no choice but to negotiate it because "conservative" Democrats were threatening to support the Rockefeller/Cheney Senate bill and Hoyer was thus forced to negotiate the best deal he could. From CQ today:

Blue Dogs' Resistance Could Force Compromise on Surveillance Bill

A potential revolt by a group of Democrats pressed party leaders into compromising on a rewrite of electronic surveillance rules that could come to a House vote by week's end, a top Democrat said Wednesday.

The legislation is still being written, said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer , D-Md., but he said negotiators are working on an “improvement” over a White House-backed, Senate-passed bill that has support from some House Democrats.

"We're very close" to a final agreement, he said, noting the bill could be on the floor as early as Friday.

Asked why Democrats don't put aside the surveillance legislation until a new president is elected in November, Hoyer said he would prefer to do so, but can't because so many House Democrats are prepared to vote for the Senate bill that he and other top House Democrats oppose.

"Clearly enough Democrats have indicated in the House they would vote for the Senate bill if it came to the floor. The alternatives are either the Senate bill or a bill significantly better" reached through negotiations with the Senate and the White House, he said.

This predictable excuse makes no sense whatsoever, for all the reasons which Daily Kos' Kagro, a true expert in Congressional procedure, explains here. House Leaders control what gets to the floor for a vote. Did this ever happen to Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert? Beyond that, the Democratic caucus unified in March to vote in favor of the House bill and refused to provide amnesty. At best for Hoyer, even if he is telling the truth, then it means, as Kagro says, that Hoyer has no control over the caucus he supposedly "leads."

More to the point, even if some "conservative" Democrats were suddenly agitating to vote for amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, it is completely irrational for Hoyer to then go and engineer a bill which does exactly that. He calls himself the "Democratic Leader" -- if he really believed anything he said back in March, he would speak out against those members of his caucus pushing a bill that he himself said was corrupt, unreasonable and irresponsible. Plainly, Hoyer -- who spent the last week emphatically (and falsely) denying he had negotiated a bill with telecom amnesty -- engineered this bill because he wanted to, and as was indicated here yesterday, now that negotiations are complete and this campaign against him has begun, he's trying to distance himself from it and pretend that it wasn't his doing.

* * * * *

As a result, our campaign will be unveiled in two phases, with Phase I to entail an immediate ad campaign aimed at three key Democratic enablers of this bill -- Hoyer, Chris Carney, and Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow of Georgia. The reasons for targeting Hoyer are self-evident and were set forth yesterday, and the campaign against Carney -- who has long been one of the Blue Dogs spearheading the effort behind this bill -- is already underway and will continue.

Rep. John Barrow was, like Carney, one of the 21 Blue Dogs who signed the letter to Nancy Pelosi back in March demanding that they be allowed to vote on the Rockefeller/Cheney Senate bill. In July, Barrow faces a very credible primary challenger -- Georgia State House Rep. Regina Thomas -- who is much more in step with the district's Democratic base.

A concerted, substantial and immediate campaign in Barrow's district to make voters aware of the corrupt two-tier system of justice he is supporting via telecom amnesty could have a serious impact on permanently removing this Blue Dog from Congress. The media buys for that district are relatively inexpensive, enabling a substantial TV, radio, and robocall buying campaign. That is particularly important because the primary occurs on an off-election day, inevitably producing a low turnout that puts a premium on turning out the base. This campaign will be devoted to turning out the base -- against Barrow.

Like most amnesty advocates, Barrow has received major contributions from the telecom industry on whose behalf he is working feverishly to obtain amnesty, and his constituents ought to -- and will -- learn of that. Just to get a sense for what Barrow is like, here is the ad he ran when he sought re-election in 2004, proudly boasting of his opposition to his party's desire to "cut and run in Iraq":

It's unbelievably ironic how he proudly boasted that he "opposed amnesty" . . . for poor, powerless immigrants -- yet he now favors amnesty for lawbreaking telecoms who deliberately broke the law in order to expand their highly profitable surveillance contracts with the Government. Demographic changes in Barrow's district have made him much more vulnerable than he was back then, and those vulnerabilities should be exploited to remove him from Congress.

* * * * *

So Phase I, to begin immediately, will focus on ad campaigns against two Democratic pro-amnesty incumbents with no primary challenger (Hoyer and Carney), and one pro-amnesty Democratic incumbent with a credible primary challenge very shortly. Phase II will involve a massive money bomb, to be planned by the same people who were behind the money bombs that raised millions and millions of dollars for the Ron Paul presidential campaign. The dates and other details for that will be announced shortly.

The plan there is to raise an extraordinary amount of money -- dwarfing the $90,000 raised in the last 24 hours -- by going to all of the various constituents of each member of this coalition in order to fuel a real campaign in defense of civil liberties, constitutional protections and the rule of law. The money raised will be used to oppose and punish those vulnerable members of Congress who continue to support the evisceration of our constitutional framework and core civil liberties, while supporting candidates and office-holders who meaningfully oppose that assault.

The Beltway establishment needs to be trained to understand that there is a real constituency for defending our constitutional framework. Thus far, that constituency has been dormant and fragmented, and thus ignored. That, more than anything, is what needs to change, and this coalition and the initial two-phase strategy is intended to be merely a start towards changing that, and will continue regardless of the outcome of this FISA/amnesty vote.

One last point: Barack Obama has, in the past, emphatically opposed warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty. In response to emails his campaign has received over the past couple days, he has been sending out an email containing the following statements:

I have consistently opposed this Administration's efforts to use debates about our national security to expand its own power, whether that was in regard to the conduct of the Iraq war or its restrictions on our civil liberties through domestic surveillance programs or suspension of habeas corpus. It is time to restore oversight and accountability in the FISA program, and rejecting this unprecedented grant of retroactive immunity is a good place to start.

Giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies is simply wrong. Thankfully, the most recent effort to pass this legislation at the end of the legislative year failed. I unequivocally oppose this grant of immunity and support the filibuster of it. I have cosponsored Senator Dodd's proposal that would remove it from the current FISA bill and continue to follow this debate closely. In order to prevail, the proponents of retroactive immunity still have to convince 60 or more senators to vote to end a filibuster of this bill. I will not be one of them.

This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.

Those are fine words, but he need not -- and should not -- wait until he's President to begin putting a stop to these abuses. With meaningful action now, he could either stop this bill by himself or significantly impede it, and The New York Times Editorial Board was right when it said today that he should:

Senator Barack Obama opposes immunity and voted against the temporary expansion of FISA. We hope he will show strong leadership this time. He might even take time off from the campaign to vote against the disturbing deal brewing in the back rooms of Congress.

The best way for a candidate to demonstrate that he is serious and authentic about "change" and "leadership" is to demonstrate those attributes when he can -- with actions, not just words.

All funds raised for the next several days will be devoted to Phase I of the campaign outlined above. The more money raised, the more powerfully the targets can be affected. Contributions can be made here. I'll post more updates as more members join this coalition.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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