Several kind readers gave us the heads-up yesterday about a fundraising email that the Walz campaign sent out. Like Kristin Gillibrand before him, Tim Walz has been hit by robocalls to his constituents asking him to support retroactive immunity for telecoms.
The appeal began:
A group calling themselves “Frontiers of Freedom” is calling voters in southern Minnesota. . . .
The group is telling voters to urge me to support retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the President’s illegal wiretapping program. They want me to cave in to the President’s demands.
Despite the pressure, I refuse to give these phone companies a free pass. I won’t let President Bush decide when he can break the law. . . .
Readers asked us to look into the Frontiers of Freedom Foundation (FOFF) to see what the group was about. Posting has been light here on the Prairie while we combed through news articles and reports about the group.
While one interest of FOFF founder chair Malcolm Wallop placed him near the heart of one of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay's less excellent adventures in Malaysia,this post will focus on FOFF's recent work for telecoms, since the calls brought up immunity.
Common Cause wrote about FOF when it was carrying telecoms' water as they sought to break into the cable market:
Frontiers of Freedom is a think tank that advocates a free market, deregulatory approach to public policy. It operates six policy groups, including a Center for Economic Liberty and Property Rights which handles telecommunications policy.
Frontiers of Freedom does not disclose its financial backers, but the Wall Street Journal reported in 2001 that the organization's main contributors were corporations such as Philip Morris, ExxonMobil and RJ Reynolds Tobacco. At the time, Frontiers of Freedom lobbied heavily against environmental regulations designed to reduce global warming, and also railed against plaintiffs who sued the tobacco companies after contracting lung cancer from smoking.
More recently, the Larstan Business Group accused Frontiers of Freedom of engaging in Astroturf lobbying on behalf of the telephone companies. Larstan's report, it should be noted, was commissioned by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the main trade association for the cable television industry.
The report points out that Frontiers of Freedom has flip-flopped from being a critic of the telephone industry, to being one of its champions. According to Larstan, in 2004, Frontiers of Freedom lambasted "the Bell monopolies" for not "do[ing] any of the heavy-lifting normally associated with a free market," and instead relying on government regulation to build their business. But in 2005, the organization praised the merger of AT&T and SBC Communications - two of the telephone industries biggest players - and also endorsed the Bell-backed regulations designed to ease their entry into the cable television business. Qwest Communications has alleged that Frontiers of Freedom accepts contributions from AT&T.
And then there's the FOFF's involvement in opposing net neutrality as a partner in the Hands off the Internet campaign. PRWatch gave the industry and its shills (including FOFF) a Bronze Falsie for Neutralizing Net Neutrality:
In two reports, Common Cause exposed more than a dozen front groups for telephone and cable companies. These groups hide their industry ties and often "claim to represent huge numbers of citizens, but in reality their public support is minimal or nonexistent," Common Cause wrote. Such campaigns "deliberately mislead citizens, and they deliberately mislead our lawmakers, who are already charged with the difficult task of making sense of complex telecommunications policies."
A frequent target of the telecom front groups is net neutrality, the principle that Internet providers should not favor some content and applications over others. Industry-funded groups with nice-sounding names like Hands Off the Internet, FreedomWorks, Consumers for Cable Choice, Progress and Freedom Foundation and Frontiers of Freedom claim that net neutrality would increase costs and reduce choices for consumers. Verizon Communications hired pollsters to conduct a misleading opinion survey purporting to show that consumers oppose net neutrality. One leading poll question asked respondents which is more important: "the benefits of new TV and video choice" and "lower prices for cable TV," or "barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services ... for a fee"? The National Journal reported that telecom companies were spending $850,000 per week to attack net neutrality in advertisements placed "anywhere a congressional staffer is likely to be — including the Washington area transit system" and "at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport."
Oh boy! FOFF is so worried about freedom for
telecoms Internet users. Just to remind everybody about Net Neutrality, we're swiping a YouTube from the Save the Internet Coalition:
Closer to home, on April 8, Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Monitor wrote about yet another coalition FOFF was working on in Phony 'grassroots' telecom industry group pushes back against cell phone reforms.
Birkey reported Mywireless.org was a blended brew of industry:
Though dominated by CTIA, the Mywireless.org coalition comprises more than 30 organizations that include 16 chambers of commerce along with sharply right-wing organizations such as the American Conservative Union, Center for Individual Freedom and Frontiers of Freedom. Mywireless.org has also spread its coins generously among some of the pillars of the anti-tax, anti-regulation right through its "grants." . . .
It's hard to separate the wires of ideological and corporate interest here, but FOFF's concern for national security has tended more toward pimping missile shield defenses over wiretapping. In fact, in the 1990s, the group fought against President Clinton's attempt to expand the government's powers to wiretap following the first World Trade Center bombings and Oklahoma City (see the text below the fold).
Sourcewatch and ExxonSecrets have more on FOFF. Why, it looks like another center of interest for FOFF is denying the link between human activity and climate change; The Science and Public Policy Institute (formerly the Center for Science and Public Policy) also takes on those who think mercury being released into the environment might be a bad thing. We could swear we've seen these cats cited already in First District energy policy discussions.
Telecom and oil company money being used to influence public opinion in Southern Minnesota? Who'd have thunk it? Isn't this debate supposed to be about the global war on terrorism? Or trial lawyers? Or....maybe this what congressman Walz means when he's says he's been representing his constituents rather than outside special interests.
Maybe the calls are simply about telecom immunity.
Looking at the history of FOFF, we, like other observers, are fascinated by the shifting sands of FOFF's positioning.
Nowhere is this more stark than in the contrast between for current wave of pro-wiretapping robocalls and FOFF founder Wallop's statement during the mid-1990s Cato Policy Forum: Combatting Terrorism, Protecting Freedom:
I want to welcome you to this conference sponsored by the Cato Institute and the Frontiers of Freedom Institute. The topic, purely and simply, will be fighting terrorism while preserving constitutional rights.
In today's context, who can be against anti-terrorism legislation except the terrorist? The answer, of course, is clear: any citizen who holds the Constitution sacred. It is wise to be against even beautiful sounding legislation if that legislation hurts the citizens; treats them as subjects, not citizens; and makes them answerable to unelected government officials.
Make no mistake about the meaning of this conference. Everyone in this room understands the need to identify and attempt to thwart future acts of terrorism. That, however, must be done within the letter and the spirit of the law and our Constitution. Otherwise, we risk accusing innocents of wrongdoing. The debate needs wisdom, not passion, and understanding, not bluster.
Thus far, every anti-terrorism measure suggested by our leaders tests the fine line between fighting terrorism and denying basic liberties. The majority of measures offered by well-meaning legislators in the year and a half the terrorism debate has been going on would do little or nothing to stop or deter terrorism. Not one legislator can point to a single provision of any of those bills that would have prevented the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Amtrak derailment in Arizona, or even the Unabomber. In fact, those measures cheerfully and without apology do more to crack down on average Americans than on terrorists.
What we have here is a knee-jerk reaction to a blow. The Oklahoma City bombing, the horrible incident that started the debate raging, was not a light blow. We are not here today to minimize the pain, the horror, and the violence and violation that the people of Oklahoma have sustained and endured. But this country has had a long, glorious, and, at times, brutal history. Through it all we have revered the Constitution. It is that document that has held and can continue to hold us together as a people. It is not a document that grants powers to the federal government, as some advocates of big government would have you believe. Rather, its purpose is specifically to limit the ability of government to infringe upon those inalienable rights with which we are endowed by our creator.
Government, which does not and did not grant us our rights, must not now seek to deny them by using fear as its justification.
We all support law enforcement. A civilized society must have it. But, as the Constitution stipulates, law enforcement must remain limited in how far it can intrude into any citizen's private life. And no protestations of good intentions in pursuit of security must be allowed to expand the limits of government power.
First of all, acts of violence are not necessarily terrorist acts. No matter how much legislation regulates them and how much technology is at law enforcement's command, no one can deter or stop a psychotic predator from creating or committing an act of violence.
Second, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a horrible recent track record on its treatment of American citizens. It is not a stretch to suggest that in the past two months the FBI has destroyed one American's life. Twenty years from now many people will be able to recall the name of Richard Jewell. Much like Billy Dale in the White House travel office, Mr. Jewell has been persecuted by a federal authority seemingly untroubled by and certainly unapologetic about the consequences of its actions. Mr. Jewell's privacy rights were thrown to the wolves by the FBI, as were the rights of the 900-plus citizens whose files were handed over to the White House.
And now we are expected to trust the same FBI with enhanced wiretapping authority, a lower threshold of probable cause, and a promise of good faith in place of a court order. I think not.
No one can doubt that there will be terrorist acts in the future. Yet we cannot let fear of such attacks overwhelm us into ceding constitutional rights to any government, however benign its promises. Once ceded, they can never be restored except by revolution.
This debate is really about whether or not we will first surrender to the terrorists and then to an intrusive federal government. Government, which does not and did not grant us our rights, must not now seek to deny them by using fear as its justification. The president and members of Congress must take a deep breath of freedom's air and resist the heroic in favor of the rational.
In the 1950s a senator from Wisconsin investigated many U.S. citizens and judged their guilt on the basis of their associations and beliefs. What bothers me most about the anti-terrorism proposals drawn up thus far is the ambiguity about what constitutes criminal activity. You name it and the FBI can claim it is criminal. Similarly, Senator McCarthy was broad and ambiguous in his accusations of communist activity.
One last point before I conclude: I am concerned about the use of the military in domestic law enforcement activity. That is wrong. It ought to outrage Americans. It ought to outrage the military, and I believe it does. I have been told time and time again by military personnel that it is not their job to police Americans and that it sets a very dangerous precedent. Constitutionally, it is not the role of the military to work with federal, state, and local law authorities in law enforcement activities. We see from the Waco disaster what can happen when military operations collide with federal, state, and local law enforcement procedures.
The measures proposed last year and this year give federal law enforcement enormous reach into the private lives of citizens. Republicans once held the belief that local and state governments could police their communities better and that the federal role was to support those functions. Where is that philosophy right now? Since 1995 it has been the Republicans who have been the loudest supporters of much unconstitutional legislation. Vying with the president to appear tough on crime, they continually have abandoned their once adamantly held strict constructionist views.
At a time when Americans think we are moving to limit government and when the country fears an overly intrusive federal bureaucracy, anti-terrorism legislation runs rapidly down the street in the opposite direction. I challenge my former colleagues in the House and Senate not to go for the easy political victory and the 30-second news clip on Dan Rather. Do not cave in to pressures from advocates of big government and do not let emotions dictate your focus. Fight for personal freedom. It often seems as if Congress views the Constitution as an impediment to good government. I say to my former colleagues in Congress, please prove me wrong.
Wow! Did 9-11 change everything, or was it just the money from the telecoms?