Nonprofits Fume over Congressional E-mail Barrier

Advocacy groups are up-in-arms over a new e-mail obstacle congressional offices have enabled. They’re calling it “Logic Puzzle;” essentially, as detailed last month in the Washington Post, if you want to send your elected federal officials a message via e-mail, you’ve got to answer some simple arithmetic (3×1=x, that sorta thing).

A story/opinion piece on Personal Democracy Forum describes it this way:

While easy for most people to solve, the puzzle is designed to force you to go to the lawmaker’s own website to send your message, rather than sending it from an organizational site where you have helpful background information and assistance drafting language. Nonprofits see this in terms of our basic constitutional right to freely petition government, and agree that blocking software must go.

Of course we should always be able to freely contact the folks we elect as our representatives, and solving a puzzle beforehand, though painless for many of us, seems uncalled for. The thing is, the steady onslaught in cookie-cutter messages sent through advocacy group Web sites is taking up more and more time to wade through.

Consider this: Last year, I wrote a piece for Personal Democracy Forum (I was associate editor there at the time) about the efforts by advocacy groups on the left and right to inspire supporters to contact key senators regarding John Bolton’s nomination for UN Ambassador. I spoke with a few Capitol Hill staffers, and their sentiments were all pretty similar. The comments of Senator Lincoln Chafee’s press secretary sum up the general consensus. He told me that although the staff gives some attention to emails and calls initiated by advocacy groups, “after a while when you have so many calls and emails and blast faxes from one phone number, impact subsides.”

One of the main problems is that a good chunk of these digital missives are sent by people outside a Congressperson’s region or state. And, the truth is, they’re not going to take someone’s opinion into consideration if he can’t vote for ’em.

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