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Mary Jo Kilroy: No Communication on Policy, Prompt Communication on Fundraising

You may recall that starting last year and continuing this spring, I’ve asked you to contact your members of Congress in order to find out their position regarding warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act and to nudge them toward taking action to reform FISA law. If you haven’t done so already, please read up on the subject and pull out pen and paper today.

I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. Last August, when Mary Jo Kilroy was a candidate for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, I asked her to share her position regarding the FISA Amendments Act. Kilroy was not willing to articulate a position on the FISA Amendments Act at the time, but told me she would review the text of the bill.

In January of 2009, Mary Jo Kilroy took office as a new member of the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress. On March 2, 2009, I brought a letter to the Columbus, Ohio office of Representative Kilroy. Kilroy’s senior field representative, Andi Clark, took my letter and promised to fax it to Rep. Kilroy’s office that day. It read:

March 2, 2009

Dear Representative Kilroy,

Congratulations on your election to the House of Representatives. As a resident of Ohio’s 15th District, I was proud to cast a vote for you in the November 2006 and November 2008 elections. During your run for election last year, we met briefly (on August 31 in Goodale Park), at which time I asked your opinion regarding the FISA Amendments Act. You indicated that you hadn’t read the text of the Act (H.R. 6304 in the 110th Congress) but that you would review it in the future.

In case you have not yet had the opportunity to review the FISA Amendments Act, attached is a one-page summary of some troubling provisions of the FISA Amendments Act, particularly as they relate to 4th Amendment protections against warrantless surveillance, search and seizure. Also attached are pages of the FISA Amendments Act referenced by that summary. I assembled this summary personally; it’s not a canned description from an advocacy organization.

I would sincerely appreciate it if you or your staff would write back to me with an indication of whether you plan to take any legislative action regarding the FISA Amendments Act, and if so, what action that might be.

I remember that during our brief conversation, you made the following comment:

“I’m a strong supporter of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights and I think that we can live within our Bill of Rights including the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure of American homes, invading American zones of privacy, and I think that we can be secure in this country and protect our privacy as citizens.”

Because you are a strong supporter of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, I hope you will review the serious implications of the FISA Amendments Act. As of today, nobody else in the Congress has written any legislation to address the weaknesses in the FISA Amendments Act; I urge you to be the one who makes the difference in this regard.

I waited seven weeks and did not receive any response.

On April 20, 2009, I wrote a second letter to Rep. Kilroy and again brought it to her district office. Again, I was met at the office by staffer Andi Clark. Ms. Clark said she’d fax the second letter to Rep. Kilroy’s DC office straightaway, and also that she’d place a call to ask about the status of a response. My second letter read:

April 20, 2009

Dear Representative Kilroy,

During your run for election last year, we met briefly (on August 31 in Goodale Park), at which time I asked your opinion regarding the FISA Amendments Act. You indicated that you hadn’t read the text of the Act (H.R. 6304 in the 110th Congress) but that you would review it in the future.

On March 2, 2009, I wrote and delivered to your Columbus office a letter and a one-page, personally-written summary of the FISA Amendments Act (attached again here for your convenience). In my letter, I requested that you or your staff contact me to indicate whether you planned to take any legislative action regarding the FISA Amendments Act, and if so, what action that might be. I was particularly concerned with the provisions of the Act that relate to 4th Amendment protections against warrantless surveillance, search and seizure, and was worried that the Act left the door open to significant domestic warrantless programs.

As of April 20, 2009, I haven’t heard back. Since then (see New York Times, April 16 2009), the extent of warrantless surveillance by the United States government has been revealed to be greater than previously supposed: plans were drawn up by the Bush administration to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant. As revealed last week, domestic warrantless surveillance has not ceased under the Obama administration; “significant and systemic” NSA surveillance of Americans’ domestic e-mail and phone communication has taken place this year.

Again, I would sincerely appreciate it if you or your staff would write back to me to indicate whether you plan to take any legislative action regarding the provisions of the FISA Amendments Act, and if so, what action that might be.

I remember that during our brief conversation last summer, you made the following comment:

“I’m a strong supporter of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights and I think that we can live within our Bill of Rights including the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure of American homes, invading American zones of privacy, and I think that we can be secure in this country and protect our privacy as citizens.”

As of today, not one member of the House has submitted any legislation to address the weaknesses in the FISA Amendments Act; I urge you to be the one who makes the difference in this regard.

On April 21, 2009, Ms. Clark called me personally to report that according to staffers in Mary Jo Kilroy’s DC office, they’d already been working on a response to my first letter, had just finished it, and would be sending it out in the mail the next day.

I waited more than two weeks for the letter to come in the mail. It didn’t.

On May 10, 2009, I brought a third letter to Mary Jo Kilroy’s district office and explained about the first two letters and about the lack of a response. A Kilroy staff assistant named Sharon Whitten very kindly received that letter, faxed it on to the Washington, DC office, and sent an e-mail asking the legislative director in Rep. Kilroy’s office to follow up.

Today, a letter came to me from Representative Mary Jo Kilroy’s office.

No, it wasn’t a response to my inquiries about Rep. Kilroy’s position on warrantless surveillance.

It was a fundraising letter, inviting me to make a contribution of $500 or $1000 to the Kilroy for Congress re-election committee.

You know, it’s not like I’m asking Mary Jo Kilroy to indicate her position on an obscure subject having nothing to do with her legislative responsibilities. On the contrary, warrantless surveillance and the FISA Amendments Act are topics that have been in the news consistently for well over a year. The issue of warrantless surveillance is also a matter with which Rep. Kilroy should be familiar as a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Committee chairman Bennie Thompson’s “8 point plan” for the committee in the 111th Congress includes “preserving privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties” and “connecting the dots: intelligence, information sharing,” two matters directly tied to the FISA Amendments Act and practices of warrantless search and surveillance.

I can’t tell you why Mary Jo Kilroy and her congressional staff have been unresponsive. I have no idea whether the lack of response is due to the subject matter, is due to an overall lack of concern with constituents, or is the result of a well-meaning but disorganized office. Whatever the reason for it, this unresponsiveness is unacceptable to me; I think it should be unacceptable to anyone. After seeking communication from my member of Congress behind the scenes, it’s become clear that the quiet, subservient approach to citizenship-government relations isn’t working. That means it’s time for another approach. This post is the first step, placing the timeline on the record and letting others know about it in a relatively low-traffic but nevertheless public forum. If I have to start communicating about Kilroy’s lack of communication in higher-profile way, I will.

I’m uncomfortable bringing this problem out into public, because it doesn’t feel nice. It doesn’t feel polite. It doesn’t feel courteous. The courteous thing to do would be to quietly wait some more for a crumb or two, dropped from above by my betters. But Mary Jo Kilroy has not been granted a position on some feudal court, and Americans are not vassals. In a representative democracy, a citizen should be able to find out where his or her representative stands on a prominent issue of the day. If I can’t find these things out, then representative democracy is broken, gosh darn it! Come on, Rep. Kilroy. Fix it.

3 comments to Mary Jo Kilroy: No Communication on Policy, Prompt Communication on Fundraising

  • Andy

    Wow, youre making me feel a little foolish. I was getting a little heated about slow response time from her office but Im not talking about the time frame you are. I just wanted a couple of direct answers reg. HR 1207. In the first E mail I sent her office I asked for a direct answer w/o any double talk. Guess what I got… So I sent a follow up email explaining my displeasure with the cookie cutter rehtoric babble, yes I did use slightly more stern language (not swearing or menacing mind you) and am still waiting for a response that I doubt is coming. If you look on open congress (Great website) rep. Kilroys approval rating is worse that Bushs was! When did, “of the people , by the people & for the people”, get lost?

  • Tom

    “When did, “of the people , by the people & for the people”, get lost?”

    When the corporate sector took over the government with their lobbyists, money and influence. The entire system of democracy has been co-opted by the corporate sector and our roll as citizens has been side-lined. We vote, but they shape policy and have our representatives in their pockets.
    You’ll notice that in the K-street lobbying firms, NONE represent the citizens of our country (only the CEOs of corporate America). With no one going to bat for us, what chance do we have to fend off the bad policies and awful bail-outs robbing us of our future and almost certainly leading us to third world nation status before long? Watch how the environmental bills coming up end up being a windfall for the coal and mining concerns. Look at the deterioration of the health care bills – hell, they wouldn’t even consider single payer health plans!

    It would be great if we could just vote out the bad people, but we’ve tried that time and time again, but once in office these “elected” representatives only stand for the corporations and high-powered people who have the money to back them for re-election! The system doesn’t work as designed any more, and trying to fix it from within is at best naive.

    It’s not that i’m calling for armed revolt (which is inevitable the way they’re going) but if we no longer have any influence and only get the bill for and have to live in a country which no longer cares about our well-being, spies on us, taxes us and not the corporations, bails out the big industries but lets our jobs go overseas, kills the electric car in favor of the Hummer and then expects us to bail out the auto industry, keeps wages down but bails out the financial Ponzi scheme industry, what else should we expect? Are we supposed to just roll over and let this continue? If so, we’re gone. Welcome to Zimbabwe.

  • Jim

    I still have not received a word from Mary Jo Kilroy.

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